Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race

Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race

by Wayne Biddle
     
 

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A stunning investigation of the roots of the first moon landing forty years ago.
This illuminating story of the dawn of the space age reaches back to the reactionary modernism of the Third Reich, using the life of “rocket scientist” Wernher von Braun as its narrative path through the crumbling of Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazi regime. Von

Overview

A stunning investigation of the roots of the first moon landing forty years ago.
This illuminating story of the dawn of the space age reaches back to the reactionary modernism of the Third Reich, using the life of “rocket scientist” Wernher von Braun as its narrative path through the crumbling of Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazi regime. Von Braun, a blinkered opportunist who could apply only tunnel vision to his meteoric career, stands as an archetype of myriad twentieth century technologists who thrived under regimes of military secrecy and unlimited money. His seamless transformation from developer of the deadly V-2 ballistic missile for Hitler to an American celebrity as the supposed genius behind the golden years of the U.S. space program in the 1950s and 1960s raises haunting questions about the culture of the Cold War, the shared values of technology in totalitarian and democratic societies, and the imperatives of material progress.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
[Biddle] assembles facts, omissions, or inconsistencies in von Braun’s postwar accounts of the V-2 that cast doubt on von Braun’s minimization of his knowledge about the concentration camp where the missile was constructed....A stern, prosecutorial portrait of the famous German American rocketeer.— Gilbert Taylor
Gilbert Taylor - Booklist
“[Biddle] assembles facts, omissions, or inconsistencies in von Braun’s postwar accounts of the V-2 that cast doubt on von Braun’s minimization of his knowledge about the concentration camp where the missile was constructed....A stern, prosecutorial portrait of the famous German American rocketeer.”
Publishers Weekly
Biddle, a former New York Times reporter with a Pulitzer Prize to his credit, intertwines the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany with scientist Wernher von Braun and his role in the creation of Germany's deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets, and his postwar apotheosis as a leader of the United States space program. Biddle's primary purpose is to debunk the view—created at least in part, Biddle believes, by von Braun himself—that he was merely a pawn in the Nazi regime whose work on the V-2 weaponry was secondary in his own mind to his goal of building rockets to send humankind into space. While much of von Braun's role in the Nazi Party is shrouded in darkness, the facts and circumstantial inferences that Biddle finds convincingly contradict von Braun's self-exoneration regarding his wartime work. Biddle offers damning evidence—including testimony by slave laborers that puts von Braun inside the V-2 factory and well aware of, and participating in, the brutal treatment of the workers. Biddle also criticizes the U.S. space program for its embrace of von Braun despite his documented membership in Hitler's SS corps. 12 illus. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Biddle (A Field Guide to the Invisible, 1998, etc.) recounts the early years of the quintessential "rocket scientist" and hero of America's 1960s race to the moon. Von Braun (1912-1977) led the team that designed the Saturn V, still the world's most powerful rocket, and the only one that never failed. Even before America's moon landing, he was a prominent media figure, narrating a Disney TV special on space flight and writing and speaking incessantly on interplanetary travel. Before World War II, von Braun directed Germany's rocket program, which developed the V2, a military weapon capable of killing thousands. Anxious to exploit German technology, the United States discouraged investigations into von Braun's activities under Hitler, and the scientist denied Nazi sympathies, maintaining that space travel was his obsession. Biddle disagrees. With a jaundiced eye, the author examines von Braun's spectacular rise from a 20-year-old engineering student to, within five years, chief of a massive secret rocket-development project. Biddle makes a convincing case that von Braun had no objection to Hitler and regularly visited the squalid Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp where thousands died working to assemble the V2. Like Michael Neufeld's Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (2007), Biddle asserts that the rocket scientist made a Faustian bargain with evil to further his ambitions. Unlike Neufeld, and less convincingly, he suggests that von Braun was a self-promoting charlatan, neither as preoccupied with space as he claimed nor as skilled an engineer. Neufeld's is the definitive biography, but Biddle offers a solid, moderately damning investigation ofvon Braun's relation to the Third Reich.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393059106
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/28/2009
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Wayne Biddle won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times reporting on the “Star Wars” anti-missile project. He has written three nonfiction books and is a member of the writing seminars faculty at the Johns Hopkins University. He lives near Baltimore, Maryland.

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