He was the first astronaut to orbit the Earth. Nearly four decades later, as the world's oldest astronaut, his courage reveted a nation. But these two historical events only bracketed a life that covers the sweep of an extraordinary century.
John Glenn's autobiography spans the seminal events of the twentieth century. It is a story that begins with his childhood in Ohio where he learned the importance of family, community, and patriotism. He took these values with him as a marine fighter pilot during World War II and into the skies over Korea, for which he would be decorated. Always a gifted flier, it was during the war that he contemplated the unlimited possibilities of aviation and its frontiers.
We see the early days of NASA, where he first served as a backup pilot for astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. In 1962 Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States. Then came several years in international business, followed by a twenty-four year career as a U.S. Senator-and in 1998 a return to space for his remarkable Discover mission at the age of seventy-seven.
Glenn's utterly plainspoken yet thrilling autobiography will put a lump in readers' throats. The astronaut and four-term U.S. senator from Ohio seems to embody the best old-fashioned American values of integrity, personal discipline, love of country, honesty, courage and responsibility. At 37, Glenn was a frustrated navy bureaucrat stuck in a Washington desk job. Just four years later, in 1962, he became the first American to orbit the earth, piloting the Friendship 7 capsule and restoring national pride during the space race with the Soviet Union. Before that flight, he deadpanned to his wife: "Hey, honey, don't be scared. Remember, I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum." Glenn says he acquired a sense of unbounded possibility from his mother, an elementary schoolteacher, and his father, a coal-shoveling railroad worker who squeaked through the Depression and built up his own plumbing supplies company. Glenn's exploits as a pilot during WWII and Korea, as well as his high-altitude feats as a test pilot in the 1950s, are re-created with hair-raising immediacy in a gripping first-person narrative written with an assist from Taylor (whose books include the memoir A Necessary End). On a personal note, Glenn writes affectingly of his 56-year marriage to organist Annie Castor, with whom he played as a toddler; the strains of being a military family often having to move on short notice; his friendship with Robert Kennedy. The book closes with a heart-stopping account of his momentous return to space at age 77 in 1998 aboard space shuttle Discovery, an event that helped redefine the meaning of "old age." Told without an ounce of pretension, this is a memorable autobiography by a man who embraced public life and held it with a unique blend of Roman virtue and American confidence. BOMC main selection.