Top critical review
A book by Wolfe, about Wolfe, for Wolfe. Not to be taken seriously
Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2020
Since I was born in the 50s the space program is a shining memory of my childhood. I have never lost my interest is space and astronomy and flight. The Apollo 11 movie last year rekindled my interest (not that my interest was dead) and little by little I have become interested in reading everything that has been written about the entire era, starting from the X-1 and X-15, and everything about space flight and space exploration in general. It has become a bit of an obsession, its a huge and wonderful topic.
I rented the Right Stuff as a movie and was not impressed. I was disgusted by its treatment of Gus Grissom, which I attributed to Hollywood and its grandiose arrogance. History is just an starting point for fiction, truths, half truths, and lies, for the sake of entertainment. People are misinformed about historical events in the first place then comes Hollywood and turns it into distorted semi-fictional entertainment. So, I read the book, figuring it must be better. It was actually much worse. I will give Wolfe credit for opening my eyes on the stupendous casualty rates of military pilots and test pilots. Anything that is not a clear fact in this book however, is just as likely an invention of the creative mind of Wolfe. Did he actually know what the test monkeys were thinking? Well no. DId he actually know what the astronauts were thinking? He would have had a better chance at that one, but I was very doubtful of much of his description of their thoughts until I got to the chapter on Grissom's flight, after which I would no more believe something that Wolfe says than I would believe something that trump says. He is simply flapping his gums for profit. Anyone who believes anything he says that cannot be fact checked is being gullible.
I realized that Wolfe is like Howard Zinn. They both set out to destroy the sanitized highly patriotic versions of history and wound up replacing one set of overly kind propaganda with a different set of bitterly caustic propaganda. Bleh. I would not swallow very much of the viewpoints of either although there are grains of truth in their works. The problem of dealing with liars is that one has no idea when they might be telling the truth.
As to Wolfe's style, it is incredibly repetitive and most of the book comes down to one or two ideas, which may or may not have much truth to them; these are pounded into the ground.
Not knowing much about Wolfe I looked him up and I must say I wildly enjoyed the critics of his style. From Wiki:
"... In 2000, Wolfe was criticised by Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, after they were asked if they believed that his books were deserving of their critical acclaim. Mailer compared reading a Wolfe novel to having sex with a 300 lb woman, saying 'Once she gets to the top it's all over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated.' Updike was more literary in his reservedness: he claimed that one of his books 'amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.' Irving was perhaps the most dismissive, saying 'It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine ... read sentences and watch yourself gag.' ..."
For what Wolfe did to the truth about Gus Grissom's flight, and the harm he caused to his reputation and family, I would be tempted to find Wolfe's grave and piss on it, it would be fitting. It also would be more effort than the man deserves. I wish Grissom's estate and family had sued Wolfe. His pathograpy of Grissom based on obvious mistruths, when the actual facts and details are not hard to find about the flight, is very, very low and small. Grissom himself was not around around to defend himself, but I am glad he did not have to read this garbage.
I was already skimming through most of the book, its a book more about Tom Wolfe than a book about real events, after the Grissom chapter I very briefly skimmed the rest of the book, since I had established that the author was not honest. (I guess that I myself am pounding my reaction a bit into the ground.) The Right Stuff has gone into my woodstove and is now, at last, providing some heat, if not much light.