Apollo 8: The Trilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger

Very well written pop history. Kluger also co-write Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 with Astronaut Jim Lovell that the movie Apollo 13 is based on. He is a clear fan of the space program and that shows through in this book. There is very little here NASA’s public relations office would disapprove of.

It is a straight ahead history of the December 1968 mission of Apollo 8, focusing primarily on Frank Borman, commander of the mission, with a somewhat lesser focus on the other crew members – Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. He also spotlights some of the managers, technicians, and engineers at NASA who made the mission possible, particularly Cris Kraft, Gene Kranz, and Jim Webb.

Kluger does a nice job with the narrative that does keep you interested throughout. If your sole interest is the mission itself and not the messy crap that happens behind the scenes when human beings are involved, this is the book for you. It was engrossing in that sense.
If you are looking for more behind the scenes stuff, the political and turf wars at NASA, how the Astronauts interacted with each other and with NASA, the finger pointing after the Apollo 1 fire, and more than a superficial look at the private lives of those involved, there isn’t too much here.
If you are looking for an deeper analysis of Apollo 8’s impact on America and the world, you won’t get much of that here either; Kluger begins with the assumption that the mission had a positive, even transcendent impact.

An example of this is his treatment of the Astronauts’ famous Christmas message from the moon in which they read passages from the Book of Genesis. Kluger treats this as a defining moment in the flight, and doesn’t even attempt to question whether it was appropriate. In fact Madalyn Murray O’Hair, America’s most hated atheist, sued the U.S. Government claiming it violated the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. And while the suit was dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction, NASA never allowed it to happen again. As an atheist myself I have to say I wince a bit when I hear those transmissions, and in my view O’Hair had a case. But in truth I was not all that bothered by it. It was a different time, a dangerous time, and though the passages have no effect on me (other than eye rolls), I can see they were welcomed by a weary world at the end of a very bad year!

In any case, the point is Kluger is not attempting to provoke a debate, or to look at the space program in a wider context. He is telling the story of the Apollo 8 flight to the moon, and that’s it.
In this he succeeds admirably. If that is all you are looking for, it is well worth a read.

Note: I listened to the audio version of this book. Besides the book, Kluger’s recorded interview with Frank Borman is included as well as an edited version of mission transmissions. A nice bonus!

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Currently Reading: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Current Audio Book: The Free State of Jones by Victoria Bynum

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In the Bullpen: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson

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