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Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight Hardcover – July 8, 2014
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“Much of Barbree's writing has a "you are there" immediacy, because he was present for many of the book's key events. During his more than half-century as space correspondent for NBC News, Barbree witnessed and reported on each and every launch of the U.S. human space program. He is at his best when describing the visceral thrill of rocket flight, the lifeless majesty of the moon, and the visual splendor of Earth from space. These poetic passages are made all the more poignant by his close brush with becoming an astronaut, as a finalist in NASA's failed-to-launch "Journalist in Space" program.” ―The Washington Post
“Barbree's book reminds readers of all that led up to that first step.” ―Associated Press
“Sit back, put up your feet, and spend some time with Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight, by Jay Barbree, NBC's longtime space correspondent, who has covered the US manned spaceflight program for more than half a century. To be sure, this is not the definitive, footnote-packed Armstrong biography. Instead, this book has the feel of sitting down with Barbree at a barbeque for an extended conversation.” ―Christian Science Monitor: 1of the 10 Best Books of July
“NBC News space reporter Jay Barbree spent 50 years getting to know astronaut Neil Armstrong. In this biography, Barbree recalls Armstrong's historic moon landing in gripping detail.” ―Parade: included in Summer Books round-up
“His richly detailed profile of Armstrong…covers Armstrong's life and career with intimacy, humor and heart, from his days as a U.S. Navy pilot through his training for the NASA space program, and ultimately into the commander's seat of Apollo 11. Space hounds and history buffs will dig it, for sure, but even casual readers will be riveted by its comprehensive portrait of a real-life cosmic cowboy who broke the bonds of Earth and put the first American footprint where it had never been before.” ―American Profile
“With a foreword by John Glenn NBC News space correspondent Barbree got very up-close to the former Navy combat pilot and astronaut, who died in 2012. Notoriously private, Armstrong opened up to the author to reveal his innermost thoughts, telling "what he really felt when he took that first step on the moon, and what life in NASA was like.” ―VFW Magazine
“Barbree's tone is warm, and he has a boyish enthusiasm for both tricky missions carried out deftly and for near misses barely avoided, both of which figure heavily in Armstrong's professional life.” ―The Columbus Dispatch
“...intimate and definitive...a celebration of Armstrong's life and times.” ―Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“An eye-opening and entertaining tale of the race to the moon.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Veteran news correspondent Barbree offers an intimate view into the life of Neil Armstrong (1930-2012), his friend as well as a national hero and very private person. The author paints a detailed and colorful picture of his subject and an unbiased depiction of the period in which he lived, while also demonstrating reverence for Armstrong as confidant.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“A wholly admiring assessment of Armstrong the aviator and Armstrong the man.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Emerging clearly in Barbree's narrative are Armstrong's humility and integrity - bedrock values that remained with him throughout his life.” ―Aerospace America
“This is a great book and does much to preserve Neil's legacy.” ―Jim Lovell, NASA astronaut and commander of Apollo 13 mission
“You'll find the Neil Armstrong I knew in these pages.” ―Gene Cernan, NASA astronaut and the last man on the moon
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"A Life of Flight" was not authorized by Neil Armstrong and the book was not supported by his family. It shows. Barbree claims to use the "reportage style" of writing which in this case, apparently means if he doesn't have a direct quotation from an individual on which to draw, he'll make up something that sounds about right to him. The result is a literary disaster of a book which masquerades as fact, but is largely woven from Mr. Barbree's extensive bank of astronaut tales and myths. There has also been a suggestion that Barbree's effort borrows rather excessively from "First Man" to the point of some potential legal jeopardy.
Here's one fact you can take to the bank: This half baked book would not have seen the light of day if Neil Armstrong was still alive.
On the other side of the coin is James Hansen's authorized biography of Armstrong "First Man", which had the full cooperation of Armstrong's family and Neil himself. Armstrong participated in 55 hours of taped interviews and the author had full access to the astronaut's family and friends. Hansen paints a thorough and accurate portrayal of the man where Barbree falls well short in accuracy and depth.
Having been a space junkie growing up in Southern California in the 1950s and 60s, I’ve read many of the books by astronauts. This one felt personal, as I suspect it was for Barbree.
But I was left with the notion that he could have shared a lot more - I suspect he knows a lot more - but it feels like he did a lot of self-editing for the sake of his friend’s legacy. Neal was a private man uncomfortable with fame and hero worship that he felt was worthless and unbecoming. Too bad we don’t have such heroes today, men of substance who aren’t chasing publicity.
Armstrong, however, led a truly extraordinary life and earned his credentials. His unedited true and complete story deserves to be told. Barbree went a good deal of the way, but I sense he knows more than he shared.
Top international reviews
Perhaps if a good editor had worked on the book it could have been salvaged. As it is, the writing is excruciatingly bad, and there is no sense of narrative. Very disappointing.
I am not an engineer or space historian, but have read enought to know that this books stretches the imagination to the point of frustration. The dialogue dialogue feels like a cheap novel, inaccuracies abound (for example, describing the Apollo 1 fire, the author states that when Armstrong found out about the fire, he phoned a friend who was involved in the test and was told, "apparently somewhere beneath the seat of Gus Grissom there were unbundled live wires that had been walked on ...and one had been chaffed. Its insulation was worn and torn." This was the conclusion made by the accident review board months after the fire), and pictures don't match descriptions (on page 203 is a picture of Apollo 10's CM Snoopy -FULLY EQUIPPED WITH A SIM Bay! Page 199 picture capition, "...Cernan and ...Stafford at the controls of the lunar module Snoopy 8.4 miles above the moon." and page 249, "Neil Armstrong preparing to land Eagle on the moon." Both pictures clearly show the astronauts flying simulators and not real in flight pictures). I could go on and on but (1) my hands would get tired from all the writing and (2) I only read half the book.
I am not going to give this book away or trade it in because I don't want anyone unfamiliar with space history to read this and think it is accurate. I am actually going to throw this book in the garbage and the only reason I am giving it one star is because I don't think I have the option of giving it a zero.
I would highly recommend that if someone is looking for a biography on Neil Armstrong, spend the money on James Hanson's "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong." It is a far superior account of Armstrong's life and should not even be compared with Barbree's book.
One of the many very brave men who risked their lives to reach the moon.
He had a true understanding of where we stand in the universe.
A true ambassador for our planet and a tragic loss.
This is a great read to get to know Neil as a person.