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The Cosmonaut Who Couldn't Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin

Overview

“Let’s go!” With that, the boyish, grinning Yuri Gagarin launched into space on April 12, 1961, becoming the first human being to exit Earth’s orbit. The twenty-seven-year-old lieutenant colonel departed for the stars from within the shadowy world of the Soviet military-industrial complex. Barbed wires, no-entry placards, armed guards, false identities, mendacious maps, and a myriad of secret signs had hidden Gagarin from prying outsiders—not even his friends or family knew what he had been up to. Coming less than four years after the Russians

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The Cosmonaut Who Couldn't Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin

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Overview

“Let’s go!” With that, the boyish, grinning Yuri Gagarin launched into space on April 12, 1961, becoming the first human being to exit Earth’s orbit. The twenty-seven-year-old lieutenant colonel departed for the stars from within the shadowy world of the Soviet military-industrial complex. Barbed wires, no-entry placards, armed guards, false identities, mendacious maps, and a myriad of secret signs had hidden Gagarin from prying outsiders—not even his friends or family knew what he had been up to. Coming less than four years after the Russians launched Sputnik into orbit, Gagarin’s voyage was cause for another round of capitalist shock and Soviet rejoicing. 

The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling relates this twentieth-century icon’s remarkable life while exploring the fascinating world of Soviet culture. Gagarin’s flight brought him massive international fame—in the early 1960s, he was possibly the most photographed person in the world, flashing his trademark smile while rubbing elbows with the varied likes of Nehru, Castro, Queen Elizabeth II, and Italian sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida. Outside of the spotlight, Andrew L. Jenks reveals, his tragic and mysterious death in a jet crash became fodder for morality tales and conspiracy theories in his home country, and, long after his demise, his life continues to provide grist for the Russian popular-culture mill. 

This is the story of a legend, both the official one and the one of myth, which reflected the fantasies, perversions, hopes and dreams of Gagarin’s fellow Russians. With this rich, lively chronicle of Gagarin’s life and times, Jenks recreates the elaborately secretive world of space-age Russia while providing insights into Soviet history that will captivate a range of readers.

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Editorial Reviews

William P. Barry

“This is a brilliantly original, incisive work that not only says many new and interesting things about Gagarin, but also about the Soviet Union and Russia. Jenks is the only westerner I know of who has found, and mined, archival and other sources outside of Moscow. By tackling both the man and the myth Jenks has transcended the hagiography.”
Amy Nelson

“Jenks’s quest for the ‘real’ Yuri Gagarin makes for a compelling read. He has unearthed some archival gems that seem particularly valuable given the difficulty of accessing primary material about the first cosmonaut’s life. He makes excellent use of these materials, as well as interviews, and an extensive secondary literature of Gagariana. He is to be commended for elucidating many of the contradictory facets of the first space man’s life and legacy.”
From the Publisher

"This is an intelligent and balanced biography that combines well the cultural history of space technology with Soviet and Russian history. Highly recommended. Academic, professional, and general audiences, all levels." — CHOICE

 "This book is an outstanding piece of scholarship. The author has drawn on the best of Soviet historiography to craft a multifaceted biography of a man whose obscure origins made him appear to be a malleable public personality and with an easily masked face. Dr. Jenks has done as much for the scholarship of Soviet-era biography as historian Nell Irvin Painter has done for uncovering the lives of slaves in the United States."  — Cathleen S. Lewis, The Russian Review

"This is one of the most compelling works of space history to be published in the past decade....Jenks has given us a thought-provoking look at both the man and the society who led the way into space, and the paradoxical, ironic, and sometimes tragic ways in which they interacted with each other."
— Clifford R. McMurray,  National Space Society

“This is a brilliantly original, incisive work that not only says many new and interesting things about Gagarin, but also about the Soviet Union and Russia. . . . By tackling both the man and the myth Jenks has transcended the hagiography.”— William P. Barry

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780875806990
  • Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2013
  • Edition description: 1, New in paperback
  • Pages: 323
  • Sales rank: 1,436,531
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew L. Jenks is associate professor of history at California State University, Long Beach, and the author of The Perils of Progress: Environmental Disasters in the Twentieth Century and Russia in a Box: Art and Identity in an Age of Revolution.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Yuri Gagarin and the Many Faces of Modern Russia 3

2 A Victor's Congress Baby 27

3 The industrial Boys 51

4 The Chief Designer 92

5 The Flight that Launched a Thousand Rumors 123

6 Exegesis 151

7 Homo Sovieticus 174

8 Sacred Lies, Profane Truths 225

9 Landscapes of Russianness, 1991-2011 255

Notes 279

Index 313

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