A busy start to a new year of reading.
Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho
These are a series of essays by Acho, a former NFL player and currently a talking head on Fox Sports, to help white folks understand people of color a little better. It is light and breezy, at times almost too light and breezy. But the title is accurate: for things to get better in this country, those of us in the white community need to have some uncomfortable conversations and accept that we need to make sacrifices in all aspects of our lives for change to come about.
Life Among Giants – Bill Roorbach
I’ve has this book for several years, a gift from fellow book lover Dave V. I think I put off reading it because he told me it was decent but not great. I could be wrong on that. I just never felt any urgency to get to it when so many other books were on my list.
I decided to finally knock it out and remove it from the stack of books in my office cabinet.
It’s a tough book to write about because it is so sprawling, told through three threads taking place in the early ‘70s, late ‘70s/early ‘80s, then more modern times. Along the way it is a wild, wild ride.
There’s so much going on it’s hard to share a decent summary. The story contains: a murder of parents in front of their teenaged son, a house full of celebrities living life to the early ‘70s highest, two athletic prodigies and two ballet prodigies, an NFL career, an odd sexual awakening, another mysterious death that haunts many of the characters, a truly strange sibling relationship, a look into the struggles of running a restaurant, and a vengeance killing that goes wrong.
I’m not sure whether it all worked. I also don’t know if I had much sympathy for the main character, who seemed a little too good and gifted to be true. But I poured through the pages and read it in about a 52-hour window, which has to say something about my enjoyment of it.
The Intern’s Handbook – Shane Kuhn
This is a fun assassin story with a twist. Rather than a straight narrative, this is presented as a handbook for interns at Human Resources, Inc., a company that takes out some of the most protected targets in the world by placing assassins and “interns” inside their organizations. Through the handbook HR, Inc’s best assassin, John Lago, relates his final mission, one that goes severely off the rails and brings down the entire company.
It is written with a very cinematic feel, and a movie was optioned from the script seven years ago but seems to have died. It would have been interesting to see how the story translated to the screen. While most of the story is fine, it fell apart a bit in the final quarter. I wonder if that would have been corrected/cleaned up as the story was reduced to screenplay.
Rocket Men – Robert Kurson
I know plenty about Apollo missions 11 and 13, the most famous of NASA’s manned flights to the moon. But I did not know much about Apollo 8, which many inside NASA think is the greatest mission of the bunch. Some podcast listening piqued my interest and I snatched this up and read it in two days.
Apollo 8 was an outlier in the Apollo program. NASA was normally very formal and conservative in how they moved through the process of getting to the moon. A had to happen before B, and B had to be completed before C, and so on.
So it was a massive change in process when NASA suddenly, in the fall of 1968, decided to leap ahead and launch a manned rocket to the moon in December of that year. This was a big deal because it was jumping past several milestones that had not yet been satisfied, most importantly that the Saturn IV rocket had not safely taken men into orbit and had failed its most recent unmanned tests. But with the Soviets seemingly very close to launching their own manned lunar mission, NASA decided to throw caution to the wind and proceed with a crash course to orbit men around the moon before year’s end.
The mission worked. Along the way it sent men outside earth’s orbit for the first time ever, had men travel the fastest they had ever travelled (over 22,000 miles per hour), and checked off numerous other firsts. And the entire mission was flown under the mystery of whether what they were attempting to do was possible. Some inside NASA thought the mission had, at best, a 50–50 chance of success. There was a constant undercurrent of not knowing whether making the next set of maneuvers would send the astronauts crashing into the moon or off into space where they would be unrecoverable.
The days when the Apollo missions can be recalled first hand are nearly over. Amazingly, all three men who traveled on Apollo 8 are still alive, and were available to Kurson to help re-tell their story. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders add great depth to a flight that can be largely reconstructed from NASA documents and recordings.
Apollo 11 is more significant to the broader world, and Apollo 13 more dramatic. But Apollo 8 turned the theoretical into reality. I’m a sucker for a good space program book, and this one was excellent.