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Posted September 25, 2006
Sputnik: The Shock of the Century Delivers Best Insight
No book on the subject of Sputnik gives better insight into the political and cultural environment of the times. Sputnik: The Shock of the Century encapsulates this important time in history from many angles -- from the Soviets' steadfast determination to enter space to American complacency of its own greatness. From little-known backroom political discussions to a tech-savvy discussion of early engineering, this book covers all the bases in understanding the great history of the space industry in general and the satellite industry in particular.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2001
Shock, Fear, Challenge, Mistakes and Successes!
To date in my life there have been just a few events that caused me to sit back and rethink everything. The earliest of those events was the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. The latest was September 11, 2001. In between, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson¿s decision not to seek re-election, and Watergate had large impacts. Reviewing those events now, the Sputnik launch clearly had the largest impact. I was already space crazy, and had been following the plans for launching satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year with great interest. I had a photograph of the Vanguard rocket in my bedroom. I also knew that the Soviet Union planned a satellite, but assumed that it would come later than Vanguard. Then, pow! Sputnik is sailing around the globe, visible at sunrise and sunset. I also knew that even if we launched Vanguard the next day, it would be puny compared to Sputnik. Clearly, the Soviet Union was years ahead in space. How could that be? Soon, the curriculum in my school was enriched with math and science and a lot of my friends decided to become engineers. Since I was good in both areas, there was a lot of pressure on me to do the same. Of the people with these talents, I was the only one who did not pursue a technical career or teaching science. I was very impressed with this book because it captured the popular reaction to the event at the time, detailed the decisions that led up to the U.S. falling behind, and spells out what happened later (for good and bad). Although over 90 percent of what is in the book was known to me before, I found it helpful to see the pieces all put together in one place. As a result, I feel a sense of closure over Sputnik now for the first time in my life. In directly, I also got a new appreciation for the character of American Society. While reading the book, I compared the reactions here to how the U.S. handled the Gulf War and the terrorist bombings this year with the many mistakes of the Vietnam era. Like all people, we make our share of mistakes, usually when we are feeling overconfident. But we don¿t like making mistakes, and we then do whatever it takes to do better the next time by not repeating the old errors. For us, once is enough. For those who are old enough to have teenage or adult children, I would recommend that you share this book with them. I do not recall a better book for capturing the mood of the late 1950s and early 1960s in terms of what we were thinking about in the Cold War. This book can help create a link between generations. I¿m sure that many young people do not know that many of today¿s technologies, such as packet switching for the Internet, came as byproducts of the Cold War competition. This book can also help create a connection from the present into the past through observations such as that one. My only quibble with this book is that the subtitle seems overstated. For people who were over age 10 in 1941, I suspect that Pearl Harbor was a bigger shock in the United States. For the whole world, Sputnik may have been the shock of the century, but the book doesn¿t argue or make that case. But publishers usually pick titles and subtitles, so I¿m not going to count this against the author. One continuing lesson of this book is that we still have probably not done the right job of defining our American and worldwide objectives for space. Although we got to the moon in 1969, we couldn¿t easily get back there again now. Our vision of space needs to be a continuous, contiguous one that expands our knowledge and capabilities efficiently and effectively. Where is America overconfident today? What should we be doing better? Where are you overconfident today? What mistakes may that overconfidence cause you to make? Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible GrowthWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2001
Who, by the way, invented the word, 'sputnik'?
This reviewer was working on the Science Desk at Newsweek Magazine when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik 1 on that memorable Friday in October 1957. Our editor, Gordon Manning, asked me, a Russian-reading editorial assistant, what we might call this artificial satellite going by the cumbersome name, quoted by the AP from official Russian sources in Moscow, of 'Iskusstvenniy Sputnik Zemlyi,' or 'ISZ.' I suggested creating a common noun, 'sputnik,' small 's,' from the whole phrase. When Newsweek came out that following Monday, we were the first to use the word (which anyone can check by referring to the word's first usage in Webster III International Dictionary [under 'sputnik'] where Newsweek is cited as first publishing the term; the New York Times is listed second). The Russians themselves adopted the simple term 'Sputnik,' capital S. Undoubtedly, others would have 'invented' the word. But Newsweek was the first to use it that way. Several newspapers have reported Newsweek's coinage of the word and their dates of publication can be supplied by this reviewer. --alwWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.