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  "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War" (Michael Neufeld) (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War" (Michael Neufeld)
cspg
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posted 05-25-2007 01:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Picked up the following (which is not a forthcoming NASA publication) while reading NASA's History Office latest newsletter and I have included product info and links.
Neufeld's book, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), will be published in September, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. It will be about 640 pages long and represents the culmination of 20 years of research.
Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War
by Michael J. Neufeld
List Price: $35.00
  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307262928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262929
  • Amazon link

Dwayne Day
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posted 05-31-2007 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just talked to Mike Neufeld and he confirmed that the book is listed on Amazon and he has seen an initial proof. This is going to be a good one. Neufeld is a top-notch scholar.

cspg
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posted 06-01-2007 01:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Several books on von Braun have published and I do have the Stuhlinger/Ordway one published by Krieger, Von Braun: Crusader for Space, which I have yet to read.

Does anyone have read it? Which book would you recommend?

eurospace
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posted 06-01-2007 06:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have read Stuhlinger's book. As to be expected, Stuhlinger delivers an oral history contribution about a friend and colleague he has worked with for several decades. He is not an independent researcher of history, he is as much the subject of his book as is von Braun. Having said that, I found his oral history very interesting, containing many details. He is also is someone who does actually see there was perhaps a moral issue with being involved with the Nazis and their crimes, even though I find his answers not always satisfactory. Of course, for me as someone who lived after this horrible time, this judgement is easier to make than for someone like Stuhlinger who went through it. But that's natural - history is always written by those who come after.

Michael Neufeld has written an earlier book about Peenemünde over a decade ago (The Rocket and the Reich), and this book quickly became the standard reference book on the topic. Neufeld knows the subject to the smallest details, and addresses the questions with the accuracy, fairness and sound judgment of a solid historian. His book was not oral history, not a partisan book of whatever direction, it was pure solid science of history. I expect his new book to be of the same sound quality, and to become it "the" book on von Braun that should be number 1 of all reading lists. I am very much looking forward to its publication.

Dwayne Day
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posted 06-01-2007 08:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by eurospace:
I expect his new book to be of the same sound quality, and to become it "the" book on von Braun that should be number 1 of all reading lists. I am very much looking forward to its publication.
I have not read it, but I'm sure that it will be definitive and outstanding. Neufeld is top notch and objective. He goes where the data takes him.

cspg
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posted 06-01-2007 08:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jürgen, thanks a lot for your input regarding Stuhlinger's book and I'll guess I'm going to put Neufeld's book in my shopping cart!

collocation
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posted 09-16-2007 03:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From today's Washington Post: Lost in Space
Very early during his career in Hitler's Germany, Wernher von Braun understood the essential dilemma that confronted -- and in many ways still confronts -- almost anyone bewitched by the possibilities of rocketry and space: "I had no illusions whatsoever as to the tremendous amount of money necessary to convert the liquid-fuel rocket from [an] exciting toy . . . to a serious machine," he wrote. "To me, the Army's money was the only hope for big progress toward space travel." Von Braun from his youth dreamed of spaceships, but first he had to make a weapon, and he willingly built one, even knowing that he was using slave labor to do it.

This Faustian bargain lies at the heart of space historian Michael J. Neufeld's carefully researched biography of von Braun, the Third Reich wunderkind who built the V-2, the world's first ballistic missile, then emigrated to the United States to design weapons and eventually to develop the epic Saturn V rocket that sent six sets of Apollo astronauts to the moon. In between, he managed, through charm, wit and undeniable genius, to become the charismatic spokesman for space travel in America -- a role that earned him admiration from young baby boomers who saw him on Walt Disney's "Tomorrowland" TV show and ridicule from such counterculture icons as singer Tom Lehrer:

Don't say that he's hypocritical

Say rather that he's apolitical.

"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?

That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

FFrench
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posted 09-16-2007 03:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
the epic Saturn V rocket that sent six sets of Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Six? Six landings, yes. But "sets of Apollo astronauts to the moon"? Make that nine.

STEVE SMITH
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posted 09-16-2007 05:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for STEVE SMITH   Click Here to Email STEVE SMITH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas Friday/Saturday December 7 - 8, 2007, Mr. Neufeld will deliver a lecture and sign his book.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-23-2007 11:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A few more reviews out today:

Los Angeles Times: 'Von Braun' by Michael J. Neufeld

Neufeld does not portray Von Braun as evil but, rather, as a man like Goethe's Faust, who "uses his infernal powers to build great engineering works for what he believes to be the betterment of mankind." Faust mistreats his workers and inadvertently kills people in his way, but he feels no guilt, because "he cannot accept personal responsibility."
Boston Globe: Rocket man
Neufeld likens von Braun to a Faustian figure - not Christopher Marlowe's, who sold his soul to the devil for the possession of earthly powers, but Goethe's Faust, who for the sake of grand engineering accomplishments made himself complicit in the devil's work. He gives von Braun well-merited due, pointing to the managerial talents, including remarkable charm, drive, intellect, and energy, that he brought to the successive projects of long-range rocketry, both in Germany and the United States. He was indispensable to the V-2 effort and a brilliantly effective leader at Huntsville.

E2M Lem Man
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posted 09-25-2007 06:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for E2M Lem Man     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have been working on my own book and screenplay for a few years now. I talked with Mike Neufield and Roger Launius about von Braun for a couple hours in Washington D.C. a couple years ago. They are very impassioned about their feelings that WvB was "involved" in the German camps that produced the V-2.

What is never mentioned is that WvB was a strong family man- meaning his parents (he married after the war). He was not about to leave Germany if his folks were still there, and in harms way.

Wernher was a Faustian figure- he wanted to go to the Stars, but instead ended up on the wrong side of the great war.

Though we don't see eye to eye- I am awaiting the Neufield's book at home in the next day or two. It is supposed to have the most complete record of von Braun's records and awards ever published.

I know it will carry the feelings of the writer - for right or wrong.

KC Stoever
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posted 10-18-2007 10:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Terrific book review (by Tom Mallon, natch) in the October 22 New Yorker of Michael J. Neufeld's Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. (Knopf; $35).

Mallon writes: "Neufeld... acknowledges that 'hardly anyone under age forty' knows his subject's name, even though America's moon shots owed a large measure of their success to him. Wernher von Braun (1912-77) had a career that was itself a kind of two-stage rocket, his scientific dreams boosted toward their late American fulfillment by his youthful service to the military apparatus of Nazi Germany. Disgusted and forbearing by turns, Neufeld, the chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers this patient new biography as a corrective to the scientific and moral shakiness of the more admiring writers who have come before him. Using archival information that they neglected, he has nonetheless faced the same 'inaccessibility of [von Braun's] widow, his children, and his American relatives,' who seem to regard all biographical study of von Braun as a kind of posthumous deportation hearing, one that always carries the possibility of his being ejected from the American Cold War pantheon and repatriated to the ruins of the Third Reich."

Can't wait to read it.

collocation
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posted 10-18-2007 03:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Additional Tour Dates:

11/24/2007 Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center
14390 Air & Space Museum, Parkway
Chantilly, VA 2 pm

12/15/2007 National Air and Space Museum
National Mall 6th and Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 2pm

dom
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posted 10-19-2007 04:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Anyone reading the new von Braun book will be interested in these documentaries posted recently on YouTube.

They appear to be from German TV (but in English) and have some fascinating archival footage...

art540
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posted 10-19-2007 05:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I saw a reference in the 2.1 YouTube video about Von Braun building the Saturn 5. Can we get some estimates of his actual and direct contribution? Maybe 10-15%?

dom
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posted 10-19-2007 06:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Neufeld's biography will certainly give his exact contributions (indeed the book often contains more info than you might ever want!) but the fact remains that in the eyes of history Von Braun is still seen as the "father" of the Saturn V...

art540
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posted 10-20-2007 07:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wonder if history is sometimes created by writers who make errors and it is then picked up and repeated by new generations of writers. I see too many examples where people and events have to be categorized or labeled for no reason at all...

dom
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posted 10-21-2007 07:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No matter how hard you try there can be no such thing as a 100% objective "history". You have to try see both sides and hope its generally fair to all concerned.

When it comes to Von Braun one can't help but notice that everyone categorizes him to some extent in the past!

Opinions vary from him being either a cynical ex-Nazi who sold out his friends, humanity and then his country to build rockets (without worrying which planet they feel on), to him being just a naive dreamer whose genius was exploited along the way to space.

I don't think it is biased or wrong to say that his supreme organisational skills and charisma helped get men to the moon far sooner.

Thus the general title of 'father' of the Saturn V is not undeserved - no matter what you think of him as a person or his team's actual contribution on a percentage basis...

art540
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posted 10-21-2007 08:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One point I am trying to stress here is that a "father of the Saturn 5" in not applicable for either Von Braun or the Saturn 5. Yes, it is done but it is an example of excess effort to write "something". The Saturn 5 was too big an effort for one person to be givnn credit as a "father/builder." Being popular and effective does not mean you should get credit in history; we might do it in our personal lives but writing for history has to be more factual and less interjecting of an author's subjective views or what he has read before.

KC Stoever
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posted 10-22-2007 10:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, perhaps we should all buy the book (or check it out from the library), read it, and then talk about the man who emerges from what promises to be the authoritative biography.

I suspect a lot us will be talking not about von Braun's dreams of the moon or Mars (or who is the father of the Saturn) but the nightmare of "Planet Dora."

Let's read the book. This is a big deal.

pterodactyl
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posted 10-24-2007 07:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for pterodactyl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It will be interesting to see if the same standards of judgment will be applied to the 'faustian bargain' the leaders of the United States made when they knowingly employed Von Braun, Arthur Rudolph and other Operation Paperclip scientists. To think that the troublesome issues which are being raised now were not then known by those in power seems rather naive.

E2M Lem Man
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posted 10-25-2007 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for E2M Lem Man     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My point is this: can any man who designed a weapon (any sort) be held accountable for how it was made or where it was used? Seriously apply this to the V-2, or the Convair Atlas, Atom Bomb or the Bowie knife?

Second, Father of the Saturn V: von Braun was working on the CONCEPT of the Saturn Family when he was working for the Army. He was considering this perhaps in the 1940's even. I consider him the father of these.

KC Stoever
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posted 10-25-2007 06:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My point is this: How can we really answer this provocative question if we haven't looked at the evidence or read the book?

dom
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posted 10-27-2007 01:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Michael Neufeld talks about his Von Braun book with NPR.

DChudwin
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posted 11-04-2007 09:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I found the book yesterday in the "science" section of the local Barnes & Noble so it is being stocked by the larger chains.

art540
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posted 11-11-2007 08:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Any reviews or opinions of this book?

dom
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posted 11-11-2007 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although Neufeld's book will certainly be seen as the definitive "facts" book on Von Braun it seems too sterile.

The reader (or is it just me?) realises that the author dislikes his subject but his attempts to be academic about it all only manage to "suck the life" out of Von Braun's personality.

Although I know Neufeld is trying to get away from some of the uncritical biographies of the past - mainly written by pro-Von Braun friends - he hasn't managed to provide any "character" (good or bad) to his subject.

Put it this way, I'm glad I have the book in my collection for the details but I might just turn (with a critical eye of course!) to some of the earlier biographies to get a sense of Von Braun the man.

eurospace
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posted 11-11-2007 01:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dom:
Although Neufeld's book will certainly be seen as the definitive "facts" book on Von Braun it seems too sterile.

The reader (or is it just me?) realises that the author dislikes his subject but his attempts to be academic about it all only manage to "suck the life" out of Von Braun's personality.


If your position is one of an admirer, than of course any fact-based and balanced description of von Braun must appear "sterile". Which is amazing considering that other than the hagiographies by "von Braun's fans" there are also outright "hate books".

I have only just started reading the book, but I'm already impressed by the fair approach to the personality. Neufeld is very detail oriented and shares even minor events from the childhood years. He is not taking the easy approach of either liking or disliking him, he presents the facts, shares interesting quotes, and comes to a balanced judgment. "This is not about feelings, honey"...

His presentation of the political situation in Germany during the time von Braun grew up is not only very informed, it sometimes grants von Braun's family and background in the reactionary world of the 20s more understanding than I - as a German - would normally concede those folks.

Remember that America created its democratic state in 1776, that the French revolution took place in 1789, and in the early 20th century this class of both economically as politically backward regions of Germany were still cultivating a lifestyle and social situations that might have been appropriate in the 13th century when they colonized the pagan East, but not 700 years later.

I am not an English native speaker, so reading English requires an extra effort, and I find Neufeld's writing engaging, easy to understand and interesting. I regret having to put it aside for the working week and to wait until the next weekend to go further. Neufeld adds scientific class to history writing in an area that has been spoilt by propaganda and biased presentations far too long.

FFrench
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posted 11-13-2007 12:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for that informative and insightful review, Jürgen.

dom
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posted 11-14-2007 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just for the record let me add that I also believe the Von Braun book to be a masterwork of even-handed research.

I recently did some research connected to Von Braun and used some of the same primary documents Neufeld studied and I can say that the author is spot-on in his fair interpretation of these archives.

My main disappointment with the finished book is that at a time - as Neufeld himself admits in his introduction - when only people of a certain generation are familiar with Von Braun because he is almost forgotten to younger generations who see the Space Age as irrelevant, the book is too dense with these "facts" to bring out the excitement and adventure that was the 'race for space'.

I think the book would have been better served if it had been split in two separate volumes with more "human elements" thrown in there between the facts.

But as many members of Von Braun's close family/friends refuse to talk to both Neufeld personally and other writers in general this type of study may never happen...

So just to recap, I'm not knocking the book just stating my own disappointment that it wasn't the book I wanted to read. But that probably isn't Neufeld's fault anyway!

cspg
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posted 11-15-2007 12:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dom:
But as many members of Von Braun's close family/friends refuse to talk to both Neufeld personally and other writers in general this type of study may never happen...

How come? Do they give specific reasons as to why they don't want to talk about him? Strange.

dom
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posted 11-15-2007 01:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know why this it is happening but as Neufeld explains in his preface:
A second set of problems is the inaccessibility of his widow, his children, and his American relatives, who have been unwilling to be interviewed even by his friendly biographers. As the author of The Rocket and the Reich, a critical history of Von Braun's German army rocket program, I had no chance to talk to them. Nor, after the publication of that book, would his former German colleagues speak to me any longer...
Neufeld also hints darkly that some sensitive personal files were "missing" from the Von Braun archive at Huntsville when he looked for them!

art540
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posted 11-15-2007 02:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did Neufeld include anything on Walter Dornberger?

dom
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posted 11-16-2007 02:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's not much detailed information about Dornberger in this book.

What's there is generally in connection with Peenemunde.

art540
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posted 11-16-2007 03:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you - since Dornberger was a military participant on the V-2 and worked in the US I thought that Nuefeld might mention him umfavorably but he stayed on topic.

FFrench
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posted 11-19-2007 10:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I read this review in yesterday's paper, and found it an interesting read.

art540
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posted 11-20-2007 12:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for all the input, guys. I now have my copy to read and I will check it against Alex Roland's review that Francis posted. I did see two errors in Roland's knowledge of the US space effort. I am interested in von Braun's participation in the notorious slave labor program AND his participation in the planning and operation of the Mittelwerk facility. There are several implications about von Braun that I need to verify per the review. Should be a great read!

DChudwin
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posted 02-03-2008 06:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have finally finished Michael Neufeld's monumental biography of Wernher von Braun and I am very impressed with his effort.

Neufeld, who understands German, was able to research records from von Braun's early life in pre-war Germany and presents a fascinating picture of a young man obssessed with space growing up in an aristocratic East Prussian family.

Neufeld approaches the issue of von Braun's association with the Nazis in a thorough but fair manner (although it is clear Neufeld has a negative view of von Braun's collaboration). While I knew von Braun was pressured into joining the Nazi party, I did not know that he personally briefed Hitler on several occasions, and that it was Hitler himself who conferred the honorific title of "Professor" on von Braun. I also was not aware that von Braun was an SS officer and wore the SS officer's uniform to his advantage when trying to surrender his team to the advancing Americans.

Neufeld also investigates the relationship between von Braun and the concentration camp workers, mainly from France, who were used to construct the V-2 rockets designed by von Braun and his team. von Braun denied ever seeing mistreatment of prisoners after visiting on a couple of occasions. However, Neufeld makes a strong argument that von Braun was more aware of the situation of the slave laborers than he later admitted.

From an early age, von Braun dreamed of space and rockets and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal. von Braun is portrayed as the ultimate opportunist.

The book is extensively documented and goes into great detail, especially about von Braun's upbringing, education, and early efforts in Germany to build rockets. His stay in America is less detailed.

I personally met von Braun only on one occasion-- at the press conference of the NASA center directors before the Apollo 11 launch in July 1969. This was the time when von Braun compared the Apollo 11 launch to the era in which animals left the sea to live on the land. At the time, I thought this was hyperbole, but after reading Neufeld's book I now understand that Apollo 11 was the culmination of all of von Braun's hopes and dreams.

Americans tend to simplify things into black and white. However, this book paints a fascinating picture of a man who was both great and also flawed. He was a fine engineer, but even more so a talented organizer with drive and charisma. However, he was ethically challenged-- the end does not justify the means, because wrong means corrupt the end.

von Braun was passionately devoted to our future in space, yet his life serves as a warning that space enthusiasts need to consider the price in lives that space exploration continues to take.

I highly recommend this book. It is not always an easy read, but it is the definitive biogaphy of a man so important to the onset of the Space Age.

MCroft04
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posted 02-03-2008 09:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You've convinced me to buy and read the book. Thanks!

dss65
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posted 02-24-2008 09:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dss65   Click Here to Email dss65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I finished reading this thought-provoking book well over a month ago. I wanted to add some thoughts to this string, but I felt that I needed to let everything settle in my mind for a while before trying to get my opinions down, especially since this whole subject area so clearly provokes such intense emotions from so many people. (Understandably so.) I guess it has all boiled down to me simply wanting to say that the many thoughtful posts on this thread should adequately prepare the reader for what to expect in this coverage of an immensely interesting and controversial man. Such items in my collection as the "Tomorrowland" DVD series, "The Real Space Cowboys", and von Braun's book "Project Mars: A Technical Tale" will now always elicit a more complex internal response from me in the future than they have in the past. Yet, if Neufeld's intention was to totally demonize his subject in all of our minds (and at times it seemed that way), he was less than totally successful in my case. I can understand how others would feel otherwise. I think this is an important book in many ways, and I would encourage those who feel inclined to read it to do so. I'm glad I did.


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