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Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of Warby Michael J. Neufeld
"This book raises three important issues, one historical and two moral. The historical question is whether von Braun's great achievement, providing the means for twelve men to walk on the moon, made sense. Was it a big step toward the realization of his dream of colonizing the universe, or was it a dead end without any useful consequences?...The two moral issues that the book raises are whether von Braun was justified in selling his soul to Himmler, and whether the United States was justified in giving sanctuary and honorable employment to von Braun..." Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books (read the entire review from The New York Review of Books)
Synopses & Reviews
The first authoritative biography of Wernher von Braun, chief rocket engineer of the Third Reich (creator of the infamous V-2 rocket) who became one of the fathers of the U.S. space program. In this meticulously researched and vividly written life, Michael J. Neufeld gives us a man of profound moral complexities, glorified as a visionary and vilified as a war criminal, a man whose brilliance and charisma were coupled with an enormous and, some would say, blinding ambition.
As one of the leading developers of rocket technology for the German army, von Braun yielded to pressure to join the Nazi Party in 1937 and reluctantly became an SS officer in 1940. During the war, he supervised work on the V-2s, which were assembled by starving slave laborers in a secret underground plant and then fired against London and Antwerp. Thousands of prisoners died: a fact he well knew and kept silent about for as long as possible.
When the Allies overran Germany, von Braun and his team surrendered to the Americans. The U.S. Army immediately recognized his skills and brought him and his colleagues to America to work on the development of guided missiles, in a covert operation that became known as Project Paperclip. He helped launch the first American satellite in 1958 and headed NASA’s launch-vehicle development for the Apollo Moon landing.
Handsome and likable, von Braun dedicated himself to selling the American public on interplanetary travel and became a household name in the 1950s, appearing on Disney TV shows and writing for popular magazines. But he never fully escaped his past, and in later years he faced increasing questions as his wartime actions slowly came to light.
Based on new sources, Von Braun is a brilliantly nuanced portrait of a man caught between morality and progress, between his dreams of the heavens and the earthbound realities of his life.
"'Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers what is likely to be the definitive biography of Wernher von Braun (1912 — 1977), the man behind both Nazi Germany's V-1 and V-2 rockets and America's postwar rocket program. Spearheading America's first satellite launch in 1958, which brought the U.S. up to par with the Soviet Union in space, von Braun was celebrated on the covers of Time and Life. Neufeld has a deep understanding of the technical and human challenges von Braun faced in leading the U.S. space program and lucidly explains his role in navigating the personal and public politics, management challenges and engineering problems that had to be solved before landing men on the moon. Neufield doesn't discount von Braun's past as an SS member and Nazi scientist (which was downplayed by NASA), but concludes nonjudgmentally that von Braun's lifelong obsession with becoming the Columbus of space, not Nazi sympathies, led him to his Faustian bargain to accept resources to build rockets regardless of their source or purpose. A wide range of readers (not only science and space buffs) will find this illuminating and rewarding. 16 pages of photos. (Sept. 26)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
To some he will be forever linked with nazism and death camp labor. To others he was a dedicated scientist going wherever his work took him, regardless of who signed his paycheck. Neufield (space history, Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum) makes no excuses for his subject's associations, whether in Germany or the US. Instead, he works at a much higher level, giving full due to the subtleties and complexities that made up von Braun's character. Neufeld is careful to explain von Braun's contexts from birth onward, his motivations for attaining success in science, the circumstances in which he found himself both before and during the war, the reasons he was willing to work for the US, his early failures and later successes, and his eventual status as the leading aerospace scientist in the country, despite the whispers ever sounding behind his back. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Michael J. Neufeld is chair of the Space History Division of the Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum. Born and raised in Canada, he received his doctorate in history from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. His second book, The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era, won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics History Manuscript Award and the Society for the History of Technology Dexter Prize. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.
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