A fine evocation of the NASA experience—in the sky and on Earth.

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WONDERS ALL AROUND

THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF ASTRONAUT BRUCE MCCANDLESS II AND THE FIRST UNTETHERED FLIGHT IN SPACE

The sometimes-frustrated, sometimes-exalted life of an astronaut is excavated in this probing biography.

McCandless profiles his father, Bruce McCandless II, an Apollo astronaut who never made it onto a moon shot but later served on a space shuttle mission where he made history’s first untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit jet pack, becoming famous for an iconic photograph that showed him flying jauntily through space. In the author’s fond but cleareyed assessment, McCandless senior was a daring pilot, a brilliant engineer who did critical work on the MMU and the Hubble Space Telescope, a passionate environmentalist, and a questing soul whose motto was “onward.” He was also an “abrupt, self-absorbed, and prickly” man who was both whip smart and oblivious. (He once surprised his wife by giving her a book entitled Open Marriage for Christmas, “just for consideration.”) The book is also a vivid depiction of a testy father-son relationship pitting senior’s culture of astronauts who “cut their hair short and at precise geometric angles to minimize drag” against junior’s feckless, 1970s counterculture of teens in “greasy hair and grimy jeans…looking for psychedelic mushrooms in the cow manure.” The author’s portrait ably conveys the complexities of an astronaut’s existence: the anxious jockeying for scarce mission slots, the death-defying extremism of rocketry—“it felt like Challenger was going to break apart, and he shut his mouth tight so his stomach wouldn’t fall out”—and the pathos of McCandless senior’s predicament when he seemed eternally stuck in ground assignments that thwarted his drive and talent. (“A man who’d wrestled a Phantom warplane capable of flying 1,200 miles per hour onto the deck of a lurching aircraft carrier in a thunderstorm, at night, was now poking along Highway 183 north of Austin in a barn-size Chevy Suburban with the speedometer pegged on double nickels.”) The author’s colorful prose is shrewdly realistic about space flight but also alive to its lyrical humanism. (“The [photograph’s] oddly serene contrast of a solitary man emerging from the immensity of the universe, small but self-directed…suggests order—a triumph, even if tenuous, against what is dark and immense and essentially incomprehensible.”) The result is an absorbing testament to perseverance in pursuit of empyrean ambition.

A fine evocation of the NASA experience—in the sky and on Earth.

Pub Date: July 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62634-865-3

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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