Book Review – First Man

There’s quite a bit of a gap between this and the previous book review mainly due to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July that has kept me busy with re-reading a number of books I’ve had for many years and spending many hours with ApolloInRealtime. Anyway, the book review today, is a follow-up to this activity. Neil Armstrong certainly was an interesting and deeply inspiring person, so after watching the move ‘First Man’ on a plane to Chicago, I decided to pick up the book of the same title by James R. Hanson on which the movie was based.

‘First Man’ is not just any biography on Neil Armstrong but has been authorized and supported and was initially published in 2005. As biographies usually do, the book starts with the family tree, works through Armstrong’s childhood and then starts to expand in his teenage years and flying, his years in the Navy and the Korean war and his years as a test pilot for experimental ultra-sonic jets. The part on his time as test pilot had me worried for a bit because the author mentions a seemingly endless number of experimental flights run there and mentions a lot of people with whom Neil had worked together. As I didn’t know any of them, I could not see how that helped the storyline or why this was important enough to spend so many pages on. Fortunately, the narrative changed after that chapter and I began to thoroughly enjoy the book!

Neil Armstrong was an intensively private person so I wondered for a while if the book would only look at him from a thousand miles up as it did at the beginning. But fortunately, the further I got into the book, the closer it approached Armstrong as a person, his values, his beliefs, his approach to flying, to NASA, to life, to other people and to many other things. Also, I found it quite interesting to learn a bit about the relationship between him and the other two astronauts on Apollo 11. Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, once described the three as ‘amiable strangers’.

A good quarter of the book describes Neil’s life after the moon landing, which, for me, was the most interesting part, because I wondered how astronauts in general and Neil Armstrong in particular dealt with their fame and the challenge that the most outstanding and adventurous part of their lives came early rather than having been a culmination of it.

A very interesting and enjoyable book that tells far more than only the story of Neil Armstrong!