Overview


Millions of words have poured forth about man's trip to the moon, but until now few people have had a sense of the most engrossing side of the adventure; namely, what went on in the minds of the astronauts themselves - in space, on the moon, and even during certain odysseys on earth. It is this, the inner life of the astronauts, that Tom Wolfe describes with his almost uncanny emapthetic powers, that made ...
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The Right Stuff

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Overview


Millions of words have poured forth about man's trip to the moon, but until now few people have had a sense of the most engrossing side of the adventure; namely, what went on in the minds of the astronauts themselves - in space, on the moon, and even during certain odysseys on earth. It is this, the inner life of the astronauts, that Tom Wolfe describes with his almost uncanny emapthetic powers, that made this book a classic.

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Editorial Reviews

People
An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death ... magnificent.
New York Times Book Review
It is Tom Wolfe at his very best ... technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic. The Right Stuff is superb.
Los Angeles Times
Breathtaking ... epic ... There are images and ideas in The Right Stuff that glisten like a rocket screaming to the heavens.
Boston Globe
Romantic and thrilling ... One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.
Chicago Tribune
It’s magic ... the best book I have read in the last ten years.
Library Journal

Wolfe's 1979 volume chronicled the handful of adrenaline-junkie military test pilots who became the Mercury astronauts. Their story is juxtaposed against that of Chuck Yeager, the ace of aces pilot who broke the sound barrier but couldn't apply to the space program because he lacked a college degree. Wolfe also provides insight into the political motivations for the space race and the paranoia of the Cold War. A terrific read from beginning to end, and, unlike Bonfire above, the film version is fabulous (make sure to have it in your DVD collection).


—Michael Rogers
New York Times Book Review
SUBERB... It is Tom Wolfe at his very best... It is technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic -- The Right Stuff is suberb.
Los Angeles Times
BREATHTAKING... Epic... There are images and ideas in The Right Stuff that glisten likw a rocket screaming to the heavens.
Boston Globe
ROMANTIC AND THRILLING... One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril.
People Magazine
The Right Stuff is an echilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death... Magnificent.
Time Magazine
Crammed with inside poop and racy incident... fast cars, booze, astro groupies, the envies and injuries of the military caste system... Wolfe lasys it all out in brilliantly staged Op Lit scenes.
Newsweek
A book about the nerviest men in America by America's nerviest journalist.
Washington Monthly
What a hit!... A fun read; one of those books that you don't want to put down... Tom Wolfe is a terrific writer... The Right Stuff is the best thing he has ever done.
From the Publisher
"Technically accurate, learned, cheeky, risky, touching, tough, compassionate, nostalgic, worshipful, jingoistic . . . The Right Stuff is superb."—The New York Times Book Review

"One of the most romantic and thrilling books ever written about men who put themselves in peril."—The Boston Globe

"An exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty, and fiery death . . . Magnificent."—People

"Absolutely first class . . . Improbable as some of Wolfe's tales seem, I know he's telling it like it was."—The Washington Post Book World

"Crammed with inside poop and racy incident . . . fast cars, booze, astro groupies, the envies and injuries of the military caste system . . . Wolfe lays it all out in brilliantly staged Op Lit scenes."—Time

"Splendid . . . It shows our propensity to manufacture heroes, and, just as quickly, to forget them; it shows how a scientific program was exploited for political advantage; it provides a revealing character study of seven exceptional Americans."—The Saturday Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429961325
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/4/2008
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 45,114
  • File size: 501 KB

Meet the Author


Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Tom Wolfe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957) Universities. In December 1956, he took a job as a reporter on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. This was the beginning of a ten-year newspaper career, most of it as a general assignment reporter. For six months in 1960 he served as The Washington Post's Latin American correspondent and won the Washington Newspaper Guild's foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.

In 1962 he became a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and, in addition, one of the two staff writers (Jimmy Breslin was the other) of New York magazine, which began as the Herald Tribune's Sunday supplement. While still a daily reporter for the Herald Tribune, he completed his first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties written for New York and Esquire and published in 1965 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book became a bestseller and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the literary experiments in nonfiction that became known as the New Journalism.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: The Pump House Gang, made up of more articles about life in the Sixties, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a nonfiction story of the hippie era. In 1970 he published Radical Chick & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States. The first section was a detailed account of a party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue duplex, and the second portrayed the inner workings of the government's poverty program.

Even more controversial was Wolfe's 1975 book on the American art world, The Painted Word. The art world reacted furiously, partly because Wolfe kept referring to it as the "art village," depicting it as a network of no more than three thousand people, of whom about three hundred lived outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1976 he published another collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, which included his well-known essay "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening."

In 1979 Wolfe completed a book he had been at work on for more than six years, an account of the rocket airplane experiments of the post-World War II era and the early space program focusing upon the psychology of the rocket pilots and the astronauts and the competition between them. The Right Stuff became a bestseller and won the American Book Award for nonfiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Harold Vursell Award for prose style, and the Columbia Journalism Award.

"The right stuff," "radical chic," and "the Me Decade" (sometimes altered to "the Me Generation") all became popular phrases, but Wolfe seems proudest of "good ol' boy," which he had introduced to the written language in a 1964 article in Esquire about Junior Johnson, the North Carolina stock car-racing driver, which was called "The Last American Hero."

Wolfe had been illustrating his own work in newspapers and magazines since the 1950s, and in 1977 began doing a monthly illustrated feature for Harper's magazine called "In Our Time". The book, In Our Time, published in 1980, featured these drawings and many others. In 1981 he wrote a companion to The Painted Word entitled From Bauhaus to Our House, about the world of American architecture.

In 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, in serial form against a deadline of every two weeks for Rolling Stone magazine. It came out in book form in 1987. A story of the money-feverish 1980s in New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year, selling over 800,000 copies in hardcover. It also became the number-one bestselling paperback, with sales above two million.

In 1989 Wolfe outraged the literacy community with an essay in Harper's magazine called "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast." In it he argued that the only hope for the future of the American novel was a Zola-esque naturalism in which the novelist becomes the reporter -- as he had done in writing The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was recognized as the essential novel of America in the 1980s.

In 1996, Wolfe wrote the novella Ambush at Fort Bragg as a two-part series for Rolling Stone. In 1997 it was published as a book in France and Spain and as an audiotape in the United States. An account of a network television magazine show's attempt to trap three soldiers at Fort Bragg into confessing to the murder of one of their comrades, it grew out of what had been intended as one theme in a novel Wolfe was working on at that time. The novel, A Man in Full, was published in November of 1998. The book's protagonists are a sixty-year old Atlanta real estate developer whose empire has begun a grim slide toward bankruptcy and a twenty-three-year-old manual laborer who works in the freezer unit of a wholesale food warehouse in Alameda County, California, owned by the developer. Before the story ends, both have had to face the question of what is it that makes a man "a man in full" now, at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium.

A Man in Full headed the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks and has sold nearly 1.4 million copies in hardcover. The book's tremendous commercial success, its enthusiastic welcome by reviewers, and Wolfe's appearance on the cover of Time magazine in his trademark white suit plus a white homburg and white kid gloves -- along with his claim that his sort of detailed realism was the future of the American novel, if it was going to have one -- provoked a furious reaction among other American novelists, notably John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

Wolfe's latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, explores the unique antics of college life. He lives in New York City with his wife, Sheila; his daughter, Alexandra; and his son, Tommy.

Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


I.The AngelsWithin five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there.“Jane, this is Alice. Listen, I just got a call from Betty, and she said she heard something’s happened out there. Have you heard anything?” That was the way they phrased it, call after call. She picked up the telephone and began relaying this same message to some of the others.“Connie, this is Jane Conrad. Alice just called me, and she says something’s happened …”Something was part of the official Wife Lingo for tiptoeing blindfolded around the subject. Being barely twenty-one years old and new around here, Jane Conrad knew very little about this particular subject, since nobody ever talked about it. But the day was young! And what a setting she had for her imminent enlightenment! And what a picture she herself presented! Jane was tall and slender and had rich brown hair and high cheekbones and wide brown eyes. She looked a little like the actress Jean Simmons. Her father was a rancher in southwestern Texas. She had gone East to college, to Bryn Mawr, and had met her husband, Pete, at a debutante’s party at the Gulph Mills Club in Philadelphia, when he was a senior at Princeton. Pete was a short, wiry, blond boy who joked around a lot. At any moment his face was likely to break into a wild grin revealing the gap between his front teeth. The Hickory Kid sort, he was; a Hickory Kid on the deb circuit, however. He had an air of energy, self-confidence, ambition, joie de vivre. Jane and Pete were married two days after he graduated from Princeton. Last year Jane gave birth to their first child, Peter. And today, here in Florida, in Jacksonville, in the peaceful year 1955, the sun shines through the pines outside, and the very air takes on the sparkle of the ocean. The ocean and a great mica-white beach are less than a mile away. Anyone driving by will see Jane’s little house gleaming like a dream house in the pines. It is a brick house, but Jane and Pete painted the bricks white, so that it gleams in the sun against a great green screen of pine trees with a thousand little places where the sun peeks through. They painted the shutters black, which makes the white walls look even more brilliant. The house has only eleven hundred square feet of floor space, but Jane and Pete designed it themselves and that more than makes up for the size. A friend of theirs was the builder and gave them every possible break, so that it cost only eleven thousand dollars. Outside, the sun shines, and inside, the fever rises by the minute as five, ten, fifteen, and, finally, nearly all twenty of the wives join the circuit, trying to find out what has happened, which, in fact, means: to whose husband.After thirty minutes on such a circuit—this is not an unusual morning around here—a wife begins to feel that the telephone is no longer located on a table or on the kitchen wall. It is exploding in her solar plexus. Yet it would be far worse right now to hear the front doorbell. The protocol is strict on that point, although written down nowhere. No woman is supposed to deliver the final news, and certainly not on the telephone. The matter mustn’t be bungled!—that’s the idea. No, a man should bring the news when the time comes, a man with some official or moral authority, a clergyman or a comrade of the newly deceased. Furthermore, he should bring the bad news in person. He should turn up at the front door and ring the bell and be standing there like a pillar of coolness and competence, bearing the bad news on ice, like a fish. Therefore, all the telephone calls from the wives were the frantic and portentous beating of the wings of the death angels, as it were. When the final news came, there would be a ring at the front door—a wife in this situation finds herself staring at the front door as if she no longer owns it or controls it—and outside the door would be a man … come to inform her that unfortunately something has happened out there, and her husband’s body now lies incinerated in the swamps or the pines or the palmetto grass, “burned beyond recognition,” which anyone who had been around an air base for very long (fortunately Jane had not) realized was quite an artful euphemism to describe a human body that now looked like an enormous fowl that has burned up in a stove, burned a blackish brown all over, greasy and blistered, fried, in a word, with not only the entire face and all the hair and the ears burned off, not to mention all the clothing, but also the hands and feet, with what remains of the arms and legs bent at the knees and elbows and burned into absolutely rigid angles, burned a greasy blackish brown like the bursting body itself, so that this husband, father, officer, gentleman, this ornamentum of some mother’s eye, His Majesty the Baby of just twenty-odd years back, has been reduced to a charred hulk with wings and shanks sticking out of it.My own husband—how could this be what they were talking about? Jane had heard the young men, Pete among them, talk about other young men who had “bought it” or “augered in” or “crunched,” but it had never been anyone they knew, no one in the squadron. And in any event, the way they talked about it, with such breezy, slangy terminology, was the same way they talked about sports. It was as if they were saying, “He was thrown out stealing second base.” And that was all! Not one word, not in print, not in conversation—not in this amputated language! —about an incinerated corpse from which a young man’s spirit has vanished in an instant, from which all smiles, gestures, moods, worries, laughter, wiles, shrugs, tenderness, and loving looks—you, my love!—have disappeared like a sigh, while the terror consumes a cottage in the woods, and a young woman, sizzling with the fever, awaits her confirmation as the new widow of the day.The next series of calls greatly increased the possibility that it was Pete to whom something had happened. There were only twenty men in the squadron, and soon nine or ten had been accounted for … by the fluttering reports of the death angels. Knowing that the word was out that an accident had occurred, husbands who could get to a telephone were calling home to say it didn’t happen to me. This news, of course, was immediately fed to the fever. Jane’s telephone would ring once more, and one of the wives would be saying:“Nancy just got a call from Jack. He’s at the squadron and he says something’s happened, but he doesn’t know what. He said he saw Frank D—take off about ten minutes ago with Greg in back, so they’re all right. What have you heard?”But Jane has heard nothing except that other husbands, and not hers, are safe and accounted for. And thus, on a sunny day in Florida, outside of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, in a little white cottage, a veritable dream house, another beautiful young woman was about to be apprised of the quid pro quo of her husband’s line of work, of the trade-off, as one might say, the subparagraphs of a contract written in no visible form. Just as surely as if she had the entire roster in front of her, Jane now realized that only two men in the squadron were unaccounted for. One was a pilot named Bud Jennings; the other was Pete. She picked up the telephone and did something that was much frowned on in a time of emergency. She called the squadron office. The duty officer answered.“I want to speak to Lieutenant Conrad,” said Jane. “This is Mrs. Conrad.”“I’m sorry,” the duty officer said—and then his voice cracked. “I’m sorry … I …” He couldn’t find the words! He was about to cry! “I’m—that’s—I mean … he can’t come to the phone!”He can’t come to the phone!“It’s very important!” said Jane.“I’m sorry—it’s impossible—” The duty officer could hardly get the words out because he was so busy gulping back sobs. Sobs! “He can’t come to the phone.”“Why not? Where is he?”“I’m sorry—” More sighs, wheezes, snuffling gasps. “I can’t tell you that. I—I have to hang up now!”And the duty officer’s voice disappeared in a great surf of emotion and he hung up.The duty officer! The very sound of her voice was more than he could take!The world froze, congealed, in that moment. Jane could no longer calculate the interval before the front doorbell would ring and some competent long-faced figure would appear, some Friend of Widows and Orphans, who would inform her, officially, that Pete was dead.

Even out in the middle of the swamp, in this rot-bog of pine trunks, scum slicks, dead dodder vines, and mosquito eggs, even out in this great overripe sump, the smell of “burned beyond recognition” obliterated everything else. When airplane fuel exploded, it created a heat so intense that everything but the hardest metals not only burned—everything of rubber, plastic, celluloid, wood, leather, cloth, flesh, gristle, calcium, horn, hair, blood, and protoplasm—it not only burned, it gave up the ghost in the form of every stricken putrid gas known to chemistry. One could smell the horror. It came in through the nostrils and burned the rhinal cavities raw and penetrated the liver and permeated the bowels like a black gas until there was nothing in the universe, inside or out, except the stench of the char. As the helicopter came down between the pine trees and settled onto the bogs, the smell hit Pete Conrad even before the hatch was completely open, and they were not even close enough to see the wreckage yet. The rest of the way Conrad and the crewmen had to travel on foot. After a few steps the water was up to their knees, and then it was up to their armpits, and they kept wading through the water and the scum and the vines and the pine trunks, but it was nothing compared to the smell. Conrad, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant junior grade, happened to be on duty as squadron safety officer that day and was supposed to make the on-site investigation of the crash. The fact was, however, that this squadron was the first duty assignment of his career, and he had never been at a crash site before and had never smelled any such revolting stench or seen anything like what awaited him.When Conrad finally reached the plane, which was an SNJ, he found the fuselage burned and blistered and dug into the swamp with one wing sheared off and the cockpit canopy smashed. In the front seat was all that was left of his friend Bud Jennings. Bud Jennings, an amiable fellow, a promising young fighter pilot, was now a horrible roasted hulk—with no head. His head was completely gone, apparently torn off the spinal column like a pineapple off a stalk, except that it was nowhere to be found.Conrad stood there soaking wet in the swamp bog, wondering what the hell to do. It was a struggle to move twenty feet in this freaking muck. Every time he looked up, he was looking into a delirium of limbs, vines, dappled shadows, and a chopped-up white light that came through the tree-tops—the ubiquitous screen of trees with a thousand little places where the sun peeked through. Nevertheless, he started wading back out into the muck and the scum, and the others followed. He kept looking up. Gradually he could make it out. Up in the treetops there was a pattern of broken limbs where the SNJ had come crashing through. It was like a tunnel through the treetops. Conrad and the others began splashing through the swamp, following the strange path ninety or a hundred feet above them. It took a sharp turn. That must have been where the wing broke off. The trail veered to one side and started downward. They kept looking up and wading through the muck. Then they stopped. There was a great green sap wound up there in the middle of a tree trunk. It was odd. Near the huge gash was … tree disease … some sort of brownish lumpy sac up in the branches, such as you see in trees infested by bagworms, and there were yellowish curds on the branches around it, as if the disease had caused the sap to ooze out and fester and congeal—except that it couldn’t be sap because it was streaked with blood. In the next instant—Conrad didn’t have to say a word. Each man could see it all. The lumpy sack was the cloth liner of a flight helmet, with the earphones attached to it. The curds were Bud Jennings’s brains. The tree trunk had smashed through the cockpit canopy of the SNJ and knocked Bud Jennings’s head to pieces like a melon.

In keeping with the protocol, the squadron commander was not going to release Bud Jennings’s name until his widow, Loretta, had been located and a competent male death messenger had been dispatched to tell her. But Loretta Jennings was not at home and could not be found. Hence, a delay—and more than enough time for the other wives, the death angels, to burn with panic over the telephone lines. All the pilots were accounted for except the two who were in the woods, Bud Jennings and Pete Conrad. One chance in two, acey-deucey, one finger-two finger, and this was not an unusual day around here.Loretta Jennings had been out at a shopping center. When she returned home, a certain figure was waiting outside, a man, a solemn Friend of Widows and Orphans, and it was Loretta Jennings who lost the game of odd and even, acey-deucey, and it was Loretta whose child (she was pregnant with a second) would have no father. It was this young woman who went through all the final horrors that Jane Conrad had imagined—assumed!—would be hers to endure forever. Yet this grim stroke of fortune brought Jane little relief.On the day of Bud Jennings’s funeral, Pete went into the back of the closet and brought out his bridge coat, per regulations. This was the most stylish item in the Navy officer’s wardrobe. Pete had never had occasion to wear his before. It was a double-breasted coat made of navy-blue melton cloth and came down almost to the ankles. It must have weighed ten pounds. It had a double row of gold buttons down the front and loops for shoulder boards, big beautiful belly-cut collar and lapels, deep turnbacks on the sleeves, a tailored waist, and a center vent in back that ran from the waistline to the bottom of the coat. Never would Pete, or for that matter many other American males in the mid-twentieth century, have an article of clothing quite so impressive and aristocratic as that bridge coat. At the funeral the nineteen little Indians who were left—Navy boys!—lined up manfully in their bridge coats. They looked so young. Their pink, lineless faces with their absolutely clear, lean jawlines popped up bravely, correctly, out of the enormous belly-cut collars of the bridge coats. They sang an old Navy hymn, which slipped into a strange and lugubrious minor key here and there, and included a stanza added especially for aviators. It ended with: “O hear us when we lift our prayer for those in peril in the air.”

Three months later another member of the squadron crashed and was burned beyond recognition and Pete hauled out the bridge coat again and Jane saw eighteen little Indians bravely going through the motions at the funeral. Not long after that, Pete was transferred from Jacksonville to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. Pete and Jane had barely settled in there when they got word that another member of the Jacksonville squadron, a close friend of theirs, someone they had had over to dinner many times, had died trying to take off from the deck of a carrier in a routine practice session a few miles out in the Atlantic. The catapult that propelled aircraft off the deck lost pressure, and his ship just dribbled off the end of the deck, with its engine roaring vainly, and fell sixty feet into the ocean and sank like a brick, and he vanished, just like that.Pete had been transferred to Patuxent River, which was known in Navy vernacular as Pax River, to enter the Navy’s new test-pilot school. This was considered a major step up in the career of a young Navy aviator. Now that the Korean War was over and there was no combat flying, all the hot young pilots aimed for flight test. In the military they always said “flight test” and not “test flying.” Jet aircraft had been in use for barely ten years at the time, and the Navy was testing new jet fighters continually. Pax River was the Navy’s prime test center.Jane liked the house they bought at Pax River. She didn’t like it as much as the little house in Jacksonville, but then she and Pete hadn’t designed this one. They lived in a community called North Town Creek, six miles from the base. North Town Creek, like the base, was on a scrub-pine peninsula that stuck out into Chesapeake Bay. They were tucked in amid the pine trees. (Once more!) All around were rhododendron bushes. Pete’s classwork and his flying duties were very demanding. Everyone in his flight test class, Group 20, talked about how difficult it was—and obviously loved it, because in Navy flying this was the big league. The young men in Group 20 and their wives were Pete’s and Jane’s entire social world. They associated with no one else. They constantly invited each other to dinner during the week; there was a Group party at someone’s house practically every weekend; and they would go off on outings to fish or waterski in Chesapeake Bay. In a way they could not have associated with anyone else, at least not easily, because the boys could talk only about one thing: their flying. One of the phrases that kept running through the conversation was “pushing the outside of the envelope.” The “envelope” was a flight-test term referring to the limits of a particular aircraft’s performance, how tight a turn it could make at such-and-such a speed, and so on. “Pushing the outside,” probing the outer limits, of the envelope seemed to be the great challenge and satisfaction of flight test. At first “pushing the outside of the envelope” was not a particularly terrifying phrase to hear. It sounded once more as if the boys were just talking about sports.Then one sunny day a member of the Group, one of the happy lads they always had dinner with and drank with and went waterskiing with, was coming in for a landing at the base in an A3J attack plane. He let his airspeed fall too low before he extended his flaps, and the ship stalled out, and he crashed and was burned beyond recognition. And they brought out the bridge coats and sang about those in peril in the air and put the bridge coats away, and the Indians who were left talked about the accident after dinner one night. They shook their heads and said it was a damned shame, but he should have known better than to wait so long before lowering the flaps.Barely a week had gone by before another member of the Group was coming in for a landing in the same type of aircraft, the A3J, making a ninety-degree turn to his final approach, and something went wrong with the controls, and he ended up with one rear stabilizer wing up and the other one down, and his ship rolled in like a corkscrew from 800 feet up and crashed, and he was burned beyond recognition. And the bridge coats came out and they sang about those in peril in the air and then they put the bridge coats away and after dinner one night they mentioned that the departed had been a good man but was inexperienced, and when the malfunction in the controls put him in that bad corner, he didn’t know how to get out of it.Every wife wanted to cry out: “Well, my God! The machine broke! What makes any of you think you would have come out of it any better!” Yet intuitively Jane and the rest of them knew it wasn’t right even to suggest that. Pete never indicated for a moment that he thought any such thing could possibly happen to him. It seemed not only wrong but dangerous to challenge a young pilot’s confidence by posing the question. And that, too, was part of the unofficial protocol for the Officer’s Wife. From now on every time Pete was late coming in from the flight line, she would worry. She began to wonder if—no! assume!—he had found his way into one of those corners they all talked about so spiritedly, one of those little dead ends that so enlivened conversation around here.Not long after that, another good friend of theirs went up in an F-4, the Navy’s newest and hottest fighter plane, known as the Phantom. He reached twenty thousand feet and then nosed over and dove straight into Chesapeake Bay. It turned out that a hose connection was missing in his oxygen system and he had suffered hypoxia and passed out at the high altitude. And the bridge coats came out and they lifted a prayer about those in peril in the air and the bridge coats were put away and the little Indians were incredulous. How could anybody fail to check his hose connections? And how could anybody be in such poor condition as to pass out that quickly from hypoxia?A couple of days later Jane was standing at the window of her house in North Town Creek. She saw some smoke rise above the pines from over in the direction of the flight line. Just that, a column of smoke; no explosion or sirens or any other sound. She went to another room, so as not to have to think about it but there was no explanation for the smoke. She went back to the window. In the yard of a house across the street she saw a group of people … standing there and looking at her house, as if trying to decide what to do. Jane looked away—but she couldn’t keep from looking out again. She caught a glimpse of a certain figure coming up the walkway toward her front door. She knew exactly who it was. She had had nightmares like this. And yet this was no dream. She was wide awake and alert. Never more alert in her entire life! Frozen, completely defeated by the sight, she simply waited for the bell to ring. She waited, but there was not a sound. Finally she could stand it no more. In real life, unlike her dream life, Jane was both too self-possessed and too polite to scream through the door: “Go away!” So she opened it. There was no one there, no one at all. There was no group of people on the lawn across the way and no one to be seen for a hundred yards in any direction along the lawns and leafy rhododendron roads of North Town Creek.Then began a cycle in which she had both the nightmares and the hallucinations, continually. Anything could touch off an hallucination: a ball of smoke, a telephone ring that stopped before she could answer it, the sound of a siren, even the sound of trucks starting up (crash trucks!). Then she would glance out the window, and a certain figure would be coming up the walk, and she would wait for the bell. The only difference between the dreams and the hallucinations was that the scene of the dreams was always the little white house in Jacksonville. In both cases, the feeling that this time it has happened was quite real.The star pilot in the class behind Pete’s, a young man who was the main rival of their good friend Al Bean, went up in a fighter to do some power-dive tests. One of the most demanding disciplines in flight test was to accustom yourself to making precise readings from the control panel in the same moment that you were pushing the outside of the envelope. This young man put his ship into the test dive and was still reading out the figures, with diligence and precision and great discipline, when he augered straight into the oyster flats and was burned beyond recognition. And the bridge coats came out and they sang about those in peril in the air and the bridge coats were put away, and the little Indians remarked that the departed was a swell guy and a brilliant student of flying; a little too much of a student, in fact; he hadn’t bothered to look out the window at the real world soon enough. Beano—Al Bean—wasn’t quite so brilliant; on the other hand, he was still here.Like many other wives in Group 20 Jane wanted to talk about the whole situation, the incredible series of fatal accidents, with her husband and the other members of the Group, to find out how they were taking it. But somehow the unwritten protocol forbade discussions of this subject, which was the fear of death. Nor could Jane or any of the rest of them talk, really have a talk, with anyone around the base. You could talk to another wife about being worried. But what good did it do? Who wasn’t worried? You were likely to get a look that said: “Why dwell on it?” Jane might have gotten away with divulging the matter of the nightmares. But hallucinations? There was no room in Navy life for any such anomalous tendency as that.By now the bad string had reached ten in all, and almost all of the dead had been close friends of Pete and Jane, young men who had been in their house many times, young men who had sat across from Jane and chattered like the rest of them about the grand adventure of military flying. And the survivors still sat around as before—with the same inexplicable exhilaration! Jane kept watching Pete for some sign that his spirit was cracking, but she saw none. He talked a mile a minute, kidded and joked, laughed with his Hickory Kid cackle. He always had. He still enjoyed the company of members of the group like Wally Schirra and Jim Lovell. Many young pilots were taciturn and cut loose with the strange fervor of this business only in the air. But Pete and Wally and Jim were not reticent; not in any situation. They loved to kid around. Pete called Jim Lovell “Shaky,” because it was the last thing a pilot would want to be called. Wally Schirra was outgoing to the point of hearty; he loved practical jokes and dreadful puns, and so on. The three of them—even in the midst of this bad string!—would love to get on a subject such as accident-prone Mitch Johnson. Accident-prone Mitch Johnson, it seemed, was a Navy pilot whose life was in the hands of two angels, one of them bad and the other one good. The bad angel would put him into accidents that would have annihilated any ordinary pilot, and the good angel would bring him out of them without a scratch. Just the other day—this was the sort of story Jane would hear them tell—Mitch Johnson was coming in to land on a carrier. But he came in short, missed the flight deck, and crashed into the fantail, below the deck. There was a tremendous explosion, and the rear half of the plane fell into the water in flames. Everyone on the flight deck said, “Poor Johnson. The good angel was off duty.” They were still debating how to remove the debris and his mortal remains when a phone rang on the bridge. A somewhat dopey voice said, “This is Johnson. Say, listen, I’m down here in the supply hold and the hatch is locked and I can’t find the lights and I can’t see a goddamned thing and I tripped over a cable and I think I hurt my leg.” The officer on the bridge slammed the phone down, then vowed to find out what morbid sonofabitch could pull a phone prank at a time like this. Then the phone rang again, and the man with the dopey voice managed to establish the fact that he was, indeed, Mitch Johnson. The good angel had not left his side. When he smashed into the fantail, he hit some empty ammunition drums, and they cushioned the impact, leaving him groggy but not seriously hurt. The fuselage had blown to pieces; so he just stepped out onto the fantail and opened a hatch that led into the supply hold. It was pitch black in there, and there were cables all across the floor, holding down spare aircraft engines. Accident-prone Mitch Johnson kept tripping over these cables until he found a telephone. Sure enough, the one injury he had was a bruised shin from tripping over a cable. The man was accident-prone! Pete and Wally and Jim absolutely cracked up over stories like this. It was amazing. Great sports yarns! Nothing more than that.A few days later Jane was out shopping at the Pax River commissary on Saunders Road, near the main gate to the base. She heard the sirens go off at the field, and then she heard the engines of the crash trucks start up. This time Jane was determined to keep calm. Every instinct made her want to rush home, but she forced herself to stay in the commissary and continue shopping. For thirty minutes she went through the motions of completing her shopping list. Then she drove home to North Town Creek. As she reached the house, she saw a figure going up the sidewalk. It was a man. Even from the back there was no question as to who he was. He had on a black suit, and there was a white band around his neck. It was her minister, from the Episcopal Church. She stared, and this vision did not come and go. The figure kept on walking up the front walk. She was not asleep now, and she was not inside her house glancing out the front window. She was outside in her car in front of her house. She was not dreaming, and she was not hallucinating, and the figure kept walking up toward her front door.

The commotion at the field was over one of the most extraordinary things that even veteran pilots had ever seen at Pax River. And they had all seen it, because practically the entire flight line had gathered out on the field for it, as if it had been an air show.Conrad’s friend Ted Whelan had taken a fighter up, and on takeoff there had been a structural failure that caused a hydraulic leak. A red warning light showed up on Whelan’s panel, and he had a talk with the ground. It was obvious that the leak would cripple the controls before he could get the ship back down to the field for a landing. He would have to bail out; the only question was where and when, and so they had a talk about that. They decided that he should jump at 8,100 feet at such-and-such a speed, directly over the field. The plane would crash into the Chesapeake Bay, and he would float down to the field. Just as coolly as anyone could have asked for it, Ted Whelan lined the ship up to come across the field at 8,100 feet precisely and he punched out; ejected.Down on the field they all had their faces turned up to the sky. They saw Whelan pop out of the cockpit. With his Martin-Baker seat-parachute rig strapped on, he looked like a little black geometric lump a mile and a half up in the blue. They watched him as he started dropping. Everyone waited for the parachute to open. They waited a few more seconds, and then they waited some more. The little shape was getting bigger and bigger and picking up tremendous speed. Then there came an unspeakable instant at which everyone on the field who knew anything about parachute jumps knew what was going to happen. Yet even for them it was an unearthly feeling, for no one had ever seen any such thing happen so close up, from start to finish, from what amounted to a grandstand seat. Now the shape was going so fast and coming so close it began to play tricks on the eyes. It seemed to stretch out. It became much bigger and hurtled toward them at a terrific speed, until they couldn’t make out its actual outlines at all. Finally there was just a streaking black blur before their eyes, followed by what seemed like an explosion. Except that it was not an explosion; it was the tremendous crack of Ted Whelan, his helmet, his pressure suit, and his seat-parachute rig smashing into the center of the runway, precisely on target, right in front of the crowd; an absolute bull’s-eye. Ted Whelan had no doubt been alive until the instant of impact. He had had about thirty seconds to watch the Pax River base and the peninsula and Baltimore County and continental America and the entire comprehensible world rise up to smash him. When they lifted his body up off the concrete, it was like a sack of fertilizer.Pete took out the bridge coat again and he and Jane and all the little Indians went to the funeral for Ted Whelan. That it hadn’t been Pete was not solace enough for Jane. That the preacher had not, in fact, come to her front door as the Solemn Friend of Widows and Orphans, but merely for a church call … had not brought peace and relief. That Pete still didn’t show the slightest indication of thinking that any unkind fate awaited him no longer lent her even a moment’s courage. The next dream and the next hallucination, and the next and the next, merely seemed more real. For she now knew. She now knew the subject and the essence of this enterprise, even though not a word of it had passed anybody’s lips. She even knew why Pete—the Princeton boy she met at a deb party at the Gulph Mills Club!—would never quit, never withdraw from this grim business, unless in a coffin. And God knew, and she knew, there was a coffin waiting for each little Indian.Seven years later, when a reporter and a photographer from Life magazine actually stood near her in her living room and watched her face, while outside, on the lawn, a crowd of television crewmen and newspaper reporters waited for a word, an indication, anything—perhaps a glimpse through a part in a curtain!—waited for some sign of what she felt—when one and all asked with their ravenous eyes and, occasionally, in so many words: “How do you feel?” and “Are you scared?”—America wants to know!—it made Jane want to laugh, but in fact she couldn’t even manage a smile.“Why ask now?” she wanted to say. But they wouldn’t have had the faintest notion of what she was talking about.THE RIGHT STUFF. Copyright © 1979 by Tom Wolfe. All rights reserved. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10010.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2011

    Excellent book. Enthralling

    Wonderful insight into the complex politics and personalities involved. Highly recommend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    Highly enjoyable

    Much better than the movie- as usual...and the movie was very good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    History of the space program from test pilots to astronauts

    This book was informative and great entertainment. I loved reading about each of the astronauts stories ! NASA, roots from Chuck Yeager the greatest test pilot of all time through the rocket age.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 20, 2011

    Outstanding Book

    I was raised in this environment, in this time period. Wolff got it right. His insight into these people and this life is right on. He brought things I observed into focus, his ability to portray it all amazes me.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2010

    If you like astronauts, this book is The Right Stuff.

    The Right Stuff focuses on the original 7 Mercury astronauts. At first I thought this book would be boring and mainly about science. I was quickly proven wrong. Tom Wolfe gives the reader a clear view of the entire Mercury project, while still keeping it exciting. He gives you facts and background information so that if you nothing about astronauts you will still understand everything in the book. The book does start off a little slow, but after the first 25 pages I quickly became absorbed in it. The author does an excellent job of describing the emotions and the mindset of the original 7. He describes how they possessed something more than courage. Any fool could climb into a rocket. But what made the astronauts unique, was the ability to do it day after day and even manage to enjoy it. Overall I thought this was a good read. But if you don't find astronauts interesting, you will most likely hate this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2009

    The Right Stuff

    So this was the first Tom Wolfe book I've read, and I can tell you that is does not disappoint, and neither does Wolfe's ability to portray the struggles and triumphs of the Original Seven. A must read for anyone interested in the space race or flight in general!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2013

    Very Entertaing

    The contrast between the air force pilots and the astronauts was fascinating. The astronauts influencing NASA to make it truly a pilot position as a point pride turned out to be necessary in the end for both the safety of the astronauts and future of the space program.

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  • Posted December 3, 2012

    The Right Stuff In the book ¿The Right Stuff¿ it talks about the

    The Right Stuff
    In the book “The Right Stuff” it talks about the history of air and space flight. This book took place in the 1960s-1980s. It started out with Pete and how he loved to fly planes. Then NASA wanted to be the first country to launch a man in space and beat Russia. Unfortunately the USA weren’t the first country to launch a man into space – The Soviet Union was. Then they wanted to go forth and launch a rocket to the moon. The USA was the first and only country to ever send a man to the moon.
    This was a great book. It was a little hard to for me read, so I would recommend it to anyone in high school or above. It was an exciting book. I would strongly recommend this book to whoever likes history of planes, famous astronauts, and space flight.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2012

    This book has the right stuff, just like the mercury seven. It i

    This book has the right stuff, just like the mercury seven. It is a story of a great invisible ziggurat made of ‘the right stuff’; and how every pilot in the military tries to reach the top. There are ‘summits’ of the might pyramid, when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X-1, then the advent of the X-15 program, Being the first man to pilot a ship into the upper atmosphere and eventually space. It shows men’s journey up the ziggurat, who are all left behind, to seven skilled men that are brave enough to sit on a rocket ‘that always blows up’ and will be hurtled into the heavens for a glorious moment. That moment is when that man, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper; sits on top of the menacing ziggurat, knowing that every other human being is below him. A major theme in this book is bravery. All pilots had to be incredibly brave to climb in test aircraft that always crashed and rockets that always blew up. The wives of the pilot also had to be brave to marry their husband, knowing full well the statistics of the survival rate of a military test pilot. The ziggurat symbolizes the process that every pilot underwent, and it determined who had the right stuff. This was important because it weeded out the pilot who didn’t make the cut, whether in night carrier landings, high speed maneuvers or even medically (Deke Slayton). I enjoyed the book because I enjoy cold war history and aircraft, but I found that some parts in the beginning of the book were very dry. You would enjoy this book if you like science or if you want to learn about the early U.S. Space program from the view of the astronauts. If you enjoy this book, the books Yeager and Apollo 13 would be good for you. Overall, I found this book very entertaining and interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012

    Hated it

    Made me laugh only a couple times :'(

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

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    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing Book

    This book is great. This is without a doubt the best book I have ever read on astronauts. This book is good for all readers.

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  • Posted March 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Reviews for astronaut and NASA fans

    Fantastic voyage with Tom Wolfe and the Mercury seven.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

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    Posted March 18, 2010

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    Posted January 30, 2012

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    Posted August 1, 2009

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    Posted April 29, 2009

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    Posted April 28, 2013

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews

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