Marking the forty-fifth anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing, First Man by James Hansen offers the only authorized glimpse into the life of America’s most famous astronaut, Neil Armstrong—the man whose “one small step” changed history.
“The Eagle has landed.”
When Apollo 11 touched down on the moon’s surface in 1969, the first man on the moon became a legend. In First Man, Hansen explores the life of Neil Armstrong. Based on over fifty hours of interviews with the intensely private Armstrong, who also gave Hansen exclusive access to private documents and family sources, this “magnificent panorama of the second half of the American twentieth century” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) is an unparalleled biography of an American icon.
Upon his return to earth, Armstrong was honored and celebrated for his monumental achievement. He was also—as James R. Hansen reveals in this fascinating and important biography—misunderstood. Armstrong’s accomplishments as engineer, test pilot, and astronaut have long been a matter of record, but Hansen’s unprecedented access to private documents and unpublished sources and his interviews with more than 125 subjects (including more than fifty hours with Armstrong himself) yield this first in-depth analysis of an elusive American celebrity still renowned the world over.
In a riveting narrative filled with revelations, Hansen vividly recreates Armstrong’s career in flying, from his seventy-eight combat missions as a naval aviator flying over North Korea to his formative transatmospheric flights in the rocket-powered X-15 to his piloting Gemini VIII to the first-ever docking in space. These milestones made it seem, as Armstrong’s mother Viola memorably put it, “as if from the very moment he was born—farther back still—that our son was somehow destined for the Apollo 11 mission.”
For a pilot who cared more about flying to the Moon than he did about walking on it, Hansen asserts, Armstrong’s storied vocation exacted a dear personal toll, paid in kind by his wife and children. For the forty-five years since the Moon landing, rumors have swirled around Armstrong concerning his dreams of space travel, his religious beliefs, and his private life.
In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and as an individual. In First Man, the personal, technological, epic, and iconic blend to form the portrait of a great but reluctant hero who will forever be known as history’s most famous space traveler.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
James R. Hansen spent more than 50 hours interviewing Neil Armstrong for this authorized biography—Armstrong himself even helped proofread the final manuscript! The result is an exquisitely detailed chronicle of the events that led up to Armstrong’s iconic 1969 moon landing, as well as its aftermath. Like his outspoken capsule-mate Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong took the opportunity to dispel popular falsehoods about the moon landings; he also shared the truth of what he was thinking and experiencing while on the lunar surface. And readers looking for just a hint of outer-space scandal will relish the astronaut’s behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
On July 20, 1969, a quiet, determined man from Wapakoneta, Ohio, stepped out of his fragile spacecraft and into history. Neil Armstrong engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, astronaut and devoted family man became the first man to walk on the moon. In this powerful, unrelenting biography of a man of no particularly spectacular talent yet who stands as a living testimony to everyday grit and determination, former NASA historian Hansen has achieved something quite remarkable. Like a rich pointillist painting, he has created a magnificent panorama of the second half of the American 20th century by assembling a multitude of luminescent moments in one man's life. From Armstrong's birth to a middle-class family in Ohio to the mind-boggling fame of the Apollo 11 triumph, and later his service on the commission investigating the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, Hansen details it all. He writes of the number of rounds of 20-millimeter ammunition loosed by Armstrong's fighter squadron in Korea in October 1951 (49,299), his heart rate on liftoff in Gemini VII (146 beats per minute) and the price of a signed Armstrong letter at auction ($2,500). Rather than overwhelming, this accumulation of details gives flesh and-blood reality to a man who is more icon than human. With the recent renewal of interest in manned space travel, this book is a must for astronaut buffs and history readers alike. 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
I was just 10 years old staying up the night watching Apollo 11 land with Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon. I remember thinking that Mike Collins missed out on the walk, but realized at a young age at how important his job truly was also. I began to truly grasp the concept of "Team" from that experience.
I enjoyed the space program buildup...the Gemini Missions, (I was too young to really remember the Mercury program), Apollo 1, 7, 8, 9, 10...then the massive anticipation of Apollo 11.
However, my most vivid memory was when my Great Grandfather, born in the 1880's, was watching the Landing. He told me that he grew up in my hometown, where there was no electricity and everyone travelled by horse and buggy. As I sat there listening to him about his childhood, it struck me deeply how much we, as humans, truly leapt from horse-and-buggy to walking on the Moon WITHIN one lifetime! I am proud that my lifetime paralelled such great people that made the Moon Landings possible.
I was 6. I still remember looking out at the moon and knowing that there was in fact men walking around up there. It was a life forming event that drew me down the path to be an engineer and scientist. At age 6 I was convinced there would be an opportunity for me to ride the rocket myself. Now I look for my children to have that opportunity.
Me? I'm happy that those lucky few bother to record their thoughts and experiences so that I may in a smaller way live them. In reading this book, I was questioning the exhausting details of orbital mechanics, all the menutia of who these me were ... but then it all drew together as essential information that enriched the understanding of those magical events. I felt like i was with Mr Armstong, in a first person experience.
Not everyone will get from this what I did. But perhaps you will find things of a different sort. It's a rich read and I really loved it.
A good book. Could have been great...
A lot of note testing info in this book but it is tainted by two issues. The first is the authors worship of Armstrong as if he were God and a messiah exemplified by history constant (and irritating) reference to Armstrong as "First Man". As a result the author over emphasizes and exaggerates nearly everything Armstrong does in a way the often lacks credibility and is not consistent with the many, MANY other detailed books on this subject. Second, the author's vindictive and petty exaggerations of Buzz Aldrin's deeds and behaviors as well as his additions of extremely negative speculations on why certain things happened (like the lack of many photos of Armstrong on the moon) shows a distinct and strong bias that is not only irritating but causes one to continually wonder why this man has chosen to denigrate Aldren so childishly and relentlessly. It is well know that Buzz was not the easiest person to get along with as documented by other books but This author's attacks are over the top to a point not supported by any other document. It was a good read but most certainly not subjective in many areas and often appears as blantant propaganda to set Armstrong on a pedestal that he doesn't deserve. Too bad Mr. Armstrong allowed this to happen.