Yes, I was reading during, before, and after all that museuming. My last year’s reading was missing some of that oomph of previous years, which was pretty bloody obvious when I compared 2014 with 2015. October to October actually, so not one of these tired End of Year list bollocks; purely arbitrary end point. I was missing Science. Yup, needs a capital. Also missing other stuff, but definitely slim on the science.
Amy Shira Teitel is one of my favourite bloggers, science or otherwise. Science-wise, she’s one of the best (I read enough to make that kind of subjective statement) and in all things space and astronomy she’s—I’m a pretty big fan and I’m not going all hyperbole when I say she and Emily Lakdawalla at planetary.org, you don’t get better writing on science than these two. Ok, also Sabine Hossenfelder. Three different writers on astro stuff, writing in three different disciplines, Titel on the history of space flight, Lakdawalla on planetary science, Hossenfelder on astrophysics, all of them blogging regularly and all of them I will absolutely read and read first.
So, in need of reading science, and how convenient, Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA, exactly the kind of combination of history, engineering, 20th century Euro-American-Soviet politics, Germany at the start of it all in a story that would kick the knees off of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (new, old, doesn’t matter) and any other spy/action/Cold War film you can think of. Gripping drama and tension, cars going off cliffs, subterfuge, double-crossing, race against time to beat the Soviets to the prize, testing the limits of human endurance while using miles and pounds (seriously, America, really?). Also slave labour, concentration camps, Nazis, and all the nasty stuff that got pushed under the carpet to get to “One small step for a man.”
This is Titel’s first book, an entirely different thing to a series of thousand-word posts, where much of the heavy research and writing she’d previously done on her blog Vintage Space. There’s a lot of crossover between the two, the book going into more detail on the entire history of pre-NASA United States space programmes; her blog covering specific subjects within that as well as broadly the history of going fast enough to throw yourself off the planet. It’s also—or obviously—aimed at a general, science-interested audience, which has quite a bit to do with why I like what she writes. Her serious research abilities and love of the subject means she’s quite capable of writing extremely dense and academic histories, yet she makes it accessible to a reader who might not know anything about spaceflight, without dumbing the topic down. Excellent first book. If the next ten are as good as this, I will have eleven of her books on my shelves.