Top positive review
The best kind of history: Surprising, engaging, and fascinating
Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2019
With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July 2019, this year has brought a flood of books, television programs, and movies about NASA’ quest to get humans to the surface of the moon. While it’s great that the general public has a rekindled fascination with Apollo, most of the new material is simply re-hashed versions of what those of us who are interested in the early space program already know.
Enter The Ultimate Engineer into the mix. Jurek has dug in deep to study the life and work of George M. Low, the chief of manned spaceflight at NASA. He got dusty with Low’s archives. He spoke with dozens of Low’s colleagues. And he learned backstory from Low’s family.
That Low is so unknown (until now) makes his story fascinating. Unknown to most that is. The astronauts all knew and respected him. For example, “First Man” Neil Armstrong says of Low: “He was my favorite engineer.”
Perhaps Low was so well liked at NASA because he was a risk taker, a theme that Jurek tackles, writing aspects of The Ultimate Engineer like a thriller which kept me engaged.
My favorite part of the book is learning about the background of the Apollo 8 lunar circumnavigation mission. I’ve always thought this was the most audacious single thing NASA has done, bumping up the mission to send humans to orbit the moon before the original plan. Jurek recounts the events leading up to this momentous decision and shares all the fascinating details about how it went down.
The Apollo program involved 400,000 people, all dedicated to sending humans to the moon and returning them safely to earth. Perhaps the most critical person in the ultimate success of the Apollo project, even more important than Neil Armstrong and Wernher von Braun, was George M. Low. That his story is now so expertly told makes this book a valuable and important addition to NASA history.