Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War

Jeff Shesol. Norton, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-324-00324-3
Historian Shesol (Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court) recreates in this entertaining and deeply researched account the early days of the U.S. space program, culminating with astronaut John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit Earth in February 1962. Shesol sketches Glenn’s childhood in New Concord, Ohio; service as a fighter pilot in WWII and Korea; and breaking of the transcontinental speed record in 1957. One of seven “astronaut volunteers” selected for Project Mercury, Glenn served as backup to Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom for the first suborbital flights before being picked for the Friendship 7 mission to orbit Earth. Shesol provides plenty of historical and political context, including the Soviet Union’s early lead in the space race, the Bay of Pigs, and escalating tensions in Berlin and Southeast Asia, but the book achieves liftoff in its extended depiction of Glenn’s nearly five-hour flight, vividly recreating his perspective (“As the sun began to set, it seemed to flatten into the horizon, almost to melt, pooling liquid light across the curve of the Earth”) and documenting fears that a technical issue would cause his capsule to burn up on reentry into the atmosphere. Readers will savor the hair-raising ride. (June)
Reviewed on : 02/17/2021
Release date: 06/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-324-02211-4
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