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The Forgotten Network

The Forgotten NetworkOrder this bookStory: How does a television network die? These days it might just be a lack of sustainable advertising revenue, or a merger with a competitor, but then, there are so many networks on the air today on satellite and cable. But before those two means of delivering a signal were widespread, television pioneer Allan Du Mont tried to put into practice his dream of creating a new television network, and completely rewrote the rules of the nascent broadcasting networks. Within a decade, however, the DuMont Television Network was already no more – even though the other networks were now playing by DuMont’s rules. The author makes, and convincingly backs up, a case that DuMont signed off the air because the Federal Communications Commission, at the behest of its lobbyists within the “Big Three” networks, sabotaged the new network at every step.

Review: You know, there’s an epic movie somewhere just waiting to be made out of this story. It could be a dry pile of politics and technical jargon, but the author does a great job of putting the understanding of those two elements within grasp, and then spends even more time on the true soul of the story – Allan Du Mont’s almost cheerfully Ed-Woodian, “carry on regardless” spirit that infuses the story of his short-lived network from its beginning to its near-tragic end. I say tragic loosely, because it’s the death of a dream and an ideal rather than the death of a person, and yet by the end of the story my heart ached for the dream and the people who dared to dream it. Continue reading

This New Ocean: The Story Of The First Space Age

This New Ocean: The Story Of The First Space AgeOrder this bookStory: The author traces the history of space travel from engineering imaginings to WWII missile technology through the planning stages of the International Space Station. Much attention is paid to military funding and applications of the space programs of both the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as to the political ebb and flow that allowed Apollo to flourish and yet later all but crippled the Space Transportation System, of which the space shuttle was intended to be only a small part.

Review: Thrillingly comprehensive and yet astoundingly cursory in its treatment of some episodes in space history, “This New Ocean” leaves me baffled as to how to assess it, and yet still turning the pages. Continue reading

Moon Shot

Moon ShotOrder this bookStory: In a way, this book picks up where Deke! leaves off – the prologue of the book describes the arrival of the old members of Slayton’s team of astronauts for his funeral in Texas. But the main portion of the book covers Deke and Alan Shepard’s adventures through their risky lives as military test and combat pilots, the origins and selection of the Mercury astronauts, and medical problems that later kept both of them Earthbound during the Gemini years. Both of them served as administrators during that time, and they dealt with everything from the tragedy of Apollo 1 through the triumph of Apollo 11 and the Apollo 13 emergency, from their own unique perspectives – sort of.

Review: With the help of two other writers, both space historians in their own right, the book is written in a curiously detached third-person perspective, not unlike “Lost Moon”. (It’s interesting to note that, unlike quite a few other biographical and factual books on one subject which diverge in their details, virtually all of these books, including Lovell’s “Lost Moon”, agree completely on the events of Apollo 13.) Continue reading

A Man On The Moon

A Man On The Moon: The Voyages Of The Apollo AstronautsOrder this bookStory: Each mission is given plenty of coverage, and a lot of attention is paid to the doomed Apollo 1 test mission as well as what the future of America’s manned moon presence could have been if not for budget cuts to redirect funding to the Vietnam War. I learned an incredible amount of information I had never heard before from this book, including something of a minor scandal involving the crew of Apollo 15.

Review: Though I thoroughly enjoyed Jim Lovell’s “Lost Moon”, I have to hand the definitive honors in the category of books about America’s push to reach the moon. It’s amazing how many of the astronauts, families and support crews Andrew Chaikin tracked down and interviewed, and the resulting gold mine of information and feelings barely fits into this admittedly thick book. Continue reading

Light This Candle

Light This CandleOrder this bookStory: America’s first astronaut was also one of its quietest. Fiercely guarding his privacy and that of his family, Alan B. Shepard Jr. did few interviews during his time as an astronaut, seldom talking about his stellar career as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and later test pilot, or his quest to be the first man in space (he had to be content to be the first American in space, a mantle he was just as happy to wear), or his fierce fight with a debilitating disease – a fight he won before commanding the third successful lunar landing mission, Apollo 14.

Review: As author Neal Thompson explains in his foreword, he wasn’t inspired to write Alan Shepard’s biography until, when asked to write an article upon Shepard’s death, he discovered that no such book existed. Thompson decided to fill this gap himself, and he’s done an admirable job with Light This Candle – amazing, really, drawing from a staggering number of sources, some of them rather obscure and terribly enlightening. Interviews with Shepard’s surviving fellow Mercury Seven astronauts, as well as the astronauts under him during his lengthy grounding while battling a disorienting inner ear disease, you’d expect; Thompson goes back as far as Shepard’s Navy days, interviewing bunkmates, shipmates, instructors, fellow pilots, you name it. The FBI’s dossier on Shepard is also opened, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. Continue reading

The Encyclopedia Of Soviet Spacecraft

The Encyclopedia Of Soviet SpacecraftOrder this bookStory: After a brief introduction on the dawn of the Soviet space program and its pioneers, this book offers a concise, launch-by-launch, mission-by-mission catalog of the entire space program through 1987. Launch sites and dates, crew rosters, and mission accomplishments are noted, along with a surprising number of photos and diagrams. In some cases, though, the mission details and even the physical details of the craft are still conjecture, despite the author’s best efforts, due to the secretive nature of the Soviet space program at the time.

Review: This book urgently needs updating.

I found “The Encyclopedia Of Soviet Spacecraft” quite unexpectedly while doing a bit of used book browsing, and my curiosity was piqued to say the least. If you’ve spent any time visiting this site, you’ll know that I’ve read and reviewed gobs of technical, historical and autobiographical texts on the U.S. space program, and on humanity’s push into space as a whole. But never before had I seen a book so detailed in its focus on the other half of the space race. Continue reading

The Apollo Adventure

The Apollo AdventureOrder this bookStory: Jeffrey Kluger’s insightful volume on the Apollo program from inception right through to the end is another treasure trove of information on that most daring era of Ameircan space exploration, focusing on other aspects that just the flight of Apollo 13.

Review: When I saw the blurb in the back of Apollo 13 nee Lost Moon for a trade paperback companion book, I figured it would be a kiddie item that really ought to be given away with Hardee’s Apollo Burgers. Wrong again. Continue reading

Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video Games

Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video GamesOrder this bookStory: In the 1960s, a government contractor working with computer display systems figured out how to get a game of video tennis going on a television monitor. But that game, which would later be reproduced by an enterprising programmer named Nolan Bushnell at a young company called Atari, would give rise to one of the fastest-growing sectors of the entertainment industry. Companies such as Atari, Coleco, Mattel, Magnavox, and Bally would ride that wave into the first home video game console era. Fortunes were made and lost by gambling on licensed arcade and entertainment properties, and a flood of mediocre software brought the video game market to its knees. And then a relatively obscure Japanese company changed the rules forever. Originally planning to license its technology out to Atari, a legal misunderstanding convinced Nintendo to go it alone in an uncertain market that they would later dominate alongside Sega and Sony. This is the nuts-and-bolts story of the video game industry.

Review: A great, in-depth book about the history, the swells and ebbtides, the fortunes and failures, and the numerous litigious episodes of the video game industry is long overdue. And after reading Phoenix, I’m sad to say that the book I’ve been hoping to read is still overdue. Continue reading

High Score: The Illustrated History Of Electronic Games

High Score: The Illustrated History Of Electronic GamesOrder this bookStory: The authors guide us through a well-illustrated survey of the history of electronic gaming, from Spacewar through the Xbox, with a particular focus on the histories of specific game series, and the companies and personalities behind them. Abundant examples of rare packaging, prototypes and hard-to-find goodies are on display throughout.

Review: If you liked “Supercade”, you’re gonna love this one. “High Score!” is the closest I’ve seen to the “definitive text meets incredible variety of photos and visuals” mix that I’ve been hoping for someone to hit in the rarified genre of video game history tomes. And some of the stuff seen in here, I’ve never seen before – such as the cartridge-based Atari Video Brain that was scrapped to make way for the Atari VCS (a.k.a. the 2600), or the unused Centipede publicity poster and the rejected artwork for Atari’s Vortex, later reamed Tempest. Ample advertising material and box art are also reproduced here, a collector’s dream. Continue reading

Game Over: Press Start To Continue

Game Over: Press Start To ContinueOrder this bookStory: An overview of the history of Nintendo, one of the most influential companies in the video game industry. Traces the company from its beginnings as a playing card manufacturer to the heights of its popularity, when its video game consoles were in practically every home across the world. New chapters continue the story into the PlayStation era, when Nintendo’s dominance was surpassed by the international conglomerate Sony.

Review: “Game Over” is the story of a company. If you have ever read a corporate history, you know that they generally do not make scintillating reading. But author David Sheff has done something impressive. He has taken the hard corporate world and put a human identity to it. While there is plenty of hard information: data, trial information, etc., it is the stories of the men and women behind Nintendo that makes the story real. Continue reading