Story: 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. […]