The All-American Boys is a no-holds-barred candid memoir by a former Marine jet jockey and physicist who became NASA's second civilian astronaut. Walter Cunningham presents the astronauts in all their strengths and their weaknesses in this dramatically revised and totally updated edition of a book that was considered an instant classic in its first edition over two decades ago. From its insider's view of the pervasive "astropolitics" that guided the functioning of the astronaut corps to its thoughtful discussion of the Columbia tragedy, The All-American Boys resonates with Cunningham's passion for humanity's destiny in space which endures today.
This is not just a "tell-all" book. It is also a story of the triumph of American heroes. Cunningham brings us into the NASA training program and reveals what it takes physically and mentally to be an astronaut. He poignantly relates the story of the devastating Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee and his own later successful flight on Apollo 7--the longest, most ambitious, and most successful first test flight any new machine - ever.
This new edition includes an update of the manned space program and his "tell it like it is" observation of NASA's successes and failures. It also includes commentary on the Shuttle disasters Of Challenger and Columbia and his views on what NASA should be doing to get back on track and to regain public support.
"The most realistic look yet at astronaut life." (Chicago Sun-Times)
"The best of all the astronaut books..." (Los Angeles Times)
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Starts off well, deteriorates into a ramble
Plenty. Technically, the sound quality is poor and Cunningham's narration really dire. From a content point of view, I'd have omitted the material added in 2003 which deteriorates into a long, repetitive ramble.
I would have it narrated by a professional actor/reader overseen by a producer and recorded in a professional studio.
As an avid follower of the Apollo program during my teenage years, I found the first part of this audiobook (the original text written in 1977) containing Cunningham’s account of Apollo fascinating. I’ve read a number of books on the program, including Lovell’s Lost Moon, Aldrin’s Magnificent Desolation and Kranz’s Failure Is Not An Option. Cunningham provides lots of interesting new facts and snippets of inside information; opinionated and outspoken, he peppers the text with candid thoughts and assessments of his fellow astronauts and the race to the moon.
What a shame he didn’t leave it at that. In 2003, he saw fit to extend the book and give us the benefit of his thoughts on the state of NASA and the space program today. Although he is surely better qualified than most of us to provide such commentary, the result, sadly, deteriorates into a rambling diatribe, getting worse the further you get. I stuck it out to the end, but after a while, it really became a challenge. For me, it began with Cunningham giving us his critical opinion of teachers in space, followed quickly by women in space and non-whites in space. While I can’t argue with him that the best person must be selected for the job in hand – especially as an astronaut – regardless of political correctness, you can’t help thinking that he’s still living in the 60’s and doesn’t realise that society (and NASA, for that matter) has moved on. Later on, we’re treated to his outspoken opinion of collaboration with the Russians, continual harping and criticism of George Abbey to mention just a few. A lot of the commentary is opinionated with little substantiation.
Cunningham uses human and technological progress together with pushing the bounds of exploration to justify continued investment in space travel, comparing the space program with the likes of Columbus and da Gama. But you can’t help getting the impression that he doesn’t seem to understand, or at least accept, that that very progress has bought with it changes in public opinion, social values and mores along with greater demands for equality. Although he mentions the role the cold war played as a major motivator in getting an American on the moon, Cunningham doesn’t seem to realise that the motivations and justifications for putting people into space have changed in the ensuing 30 years. Towards the end of the book, I got to a point where I thought, “This must be the last chapter,” only to discover another. And another. By the end, Cunningham is repeating himself almost ad nauseum and you wonder when it’s going to stop, which is a shame because the first part of the book was excellent.
The situation was surely made worse by the overall quality of the audiobook. He may have been a great fighter pilot and astronaut, but a narrator Cunningham most definitely is not. His style of reading is terribly stilted and his technique is dreadful. It might be his book, but he should never have been allowed to read it: pauses in all the wrong places, especially when confronted with words that are difficult to pronounce, mispronunciations, and misread words make listening hard going. The sound quality is very sporadic. There’s an ever-present echo together with constant “saliva clicks” and mouth sounds that makes you think that Cunningham recorded the audiobook on a portable cassette recorder in his kitchen rather than in a proper recording studio. Plus, after the first couple of chapters, the “Chariot of the Gods” style music at the end and beginning of each chapter becomes tiresome.
All in all, I wish I’d read the original version rather than listening to the extended one.
great space book