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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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


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

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?