Dr. Space: The Life of Werner Von Braun

Dr. Space: The Life of Werner Von Braun

by Bob Ward
     
 

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Wernher von Braun, the father of modern rocketry, is a hero to some and villain to others, and the many books written about him are either bitterly critical or adoring. This biography is neither. After seven years of investigation, veteran aerospace journalist Bob Ward has rejected the extremes and presents a revealing, even-handed portrait of the onetime Nazi Party

Overview

Wernher von Braun, the father of modern rocketry, is a hero to some and villain to others, and the many books written about him are either bitterly critical or adoring. This biography is neither. After seven years of investigation, veteran aerospace journalist Bob Ward has rejected the extremes and presents a revealing, even-handed portrait of the onetime Nazi Party member who brought the United States into the Space Age. As it chronicles von Braun's life, the book explodes many myths and misconceptions about this controversial genius.

From the young German aristocrat's leadership role in the development of the world's first ballistic missile-the infamous V-2 rocket used against the Allies during the invasion of Europe-to his successes in the United States after the war, a picture of von Braun emerges as a brilliant scientist with limitless curiosity and a drive to achieve his goals at almost any price. Yet the author's lengthy research reveals that the apolitical von Braun accepted nominal Party membership and an essentially honorary SS commission only under heavy pressure, and that his connections to the notorious V-2 slave labor factory were largely peripheral.

Ward sheds new light on von Braun's extraordinary contributions to launching the first U.S. satellite, hurling the first American astronauts into space, and winning the "Moon race" with the Saturn V super-booster that powered Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins, and their successors to the lunar surface. But the author does not shy away from revealing facts about the space leader's humiliating final years with NASA in the nation's capital and his long battle with cancer. Along the way, readers are introduced to the human side of this charismatic visionary who mesmerized audiences across the country. A gregarious, whisky-drinking night owl who could out cuss any of his friends, von Braun also played the piano and cello, mastered scuba diving, flew an array of aircraft, spoke several languages, became a serious amateur astronomer, and was an avid reader and conversationalist, as much at ease discussing Nietzsche as nuclear fission. Including insights and recollections from a number of von Braun's celebrity friends-Walter Cronkite, Hugh Downs, and William Pickering among them-this is a book certain to appeal to von Braun's admirers and detractors.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This paean offers uncritical praise of every aspect of rocket scientist von Braun's life. While there's an enormous amount to celebrate about the man most responsible for the U.S. putting astronauts on the moon, von Braun (1912-1977) is a more complex figure than Ward represents. As a reporter for the Huntsville (Ala.) Times, Ward covered von Braun during many of his years as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville. In addition to his own interactions with von Braun, Ward draws too heavily on letters written by the scientist's friends and colleagues in honor of his 60th birthday. Additionally, Ward provides a relatively superficial examination of von Braun's controversial role in Nazi Germany, where he and his team of engineers created the V-2 rocket used against the Allies (this project is better presented by Michael Neufeld in The Rocket and the Reich). A clear picture of von Braun's enormous charisma, intellect and personality does come through, as does a sense of how critical a political (as well as technological) role von Braun played in defining America's space program. 40 b&w photos. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wernher von Braun, a driving force behind many early American accomplishments in space, was a charismatic and highly skilled (albeit somewhat disorganized) engineer and manager. He was also a former Nazi, commissioned SS officer, and director of the V-2 rocket program, which exploited slave labor. As a Huntsville Times journalist, Ward covered von Braun's rocket team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Program in Alabama; that experience and extensive new research-including over 100 interviews with von Braun's colleagues-inform this biography. Readers hoping for a critical analysis of von Braun's character, his work in Germany, or the early days of the American space program will be sorely disappointed. The author, obviously fond and admiring of his subject, chose not to pursue the question of whether von Braun was "a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience," for whom opportunities to pursue rocketry and space flight trumped issues of morality. Those familiar with Ernst Stuhlinger and Frederick L. Ordway III's Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, which is similar in scope and slant, will find little new of substance. An optional purchase for public and academic libraries. (Index not seen.) [Smithsonian Books cut this title from its 2004 list.-Ed.]-Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591149262
Publisher:
Naval Institute Press
Publication date:
04/28/2005
Pages:
282
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.16(h) x 1.07(d)

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