Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

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Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A personal and engaging memoir from this pioneer, but the balance of topics might not be what the browser might have expected or required.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408804025

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It seems the first thing one does when one lands on the moon is go through all but the final steps in the process of flying straight back up - just in case. The first thing one does when one steps down on to the moon is to make sure you can step back up into your lunar module - just in case there's a panic somewhere. The first thing one does when land back on earth - you would think - would be to have the same urgency to get back up and out there, but life has a habit of getting in the way.

Buzz Aldrin's life certainly seems to have got in the way. Forget the global ticker-tape ceremonies, ignore the time when his driver could detect Gina Lollobrigida's villa only due to the paparazzi outside waiting for Buzz to pull up, and scratch the time he helped out on a James Bond film (no, not Moonraker!); depression, alcohol problems, and a seeming genetic trait of suicide all made the 1970s and 1980s less than a peachy ride.

This is a slightly unusual autobiography, in that what made the astronaut - and what we might be most keen to learn in this, the 40th anniversary year of Apollo 11 - is not much in evidence. We start with a slightly clunky report of the moon voyage - repeating little details too often, and offering insight and detail galore without stirring. Slowly we get down to earth in more senses, when we see the after-effects of such glories, with the slight ignominy of being the second man on the moon.

Aldrin has since then found his feet in life, with a third marriage a lot more settling, proactive and long-lasting than the second suggested. He remains an ambassador for space and space travel, with the long-held and oft-preached view that commercial interests in boosting the common man to above the atmosphere will be the drive for cheaper, more regular and more safe exploration and technology gains.

As a result a lot of the closing parts of this book is Buzz detailing his progress - speaking to Congressional panels, engaging with bigwigs of all colours, and telling us often how his companies and interests were getting their way. We do see the common man in Buzz, with his holidaying, his relationship, and the successful abandonment of alcohol, but from the outsider wishing to get a closer look into the mind of a pioneer - then and now - there may well be something lacking.

This I think is mostly down to Buzz's outlook - he seems to be the type never to look back for long, but - having stopped looking down in the dumps - he keeps his eyes on the future, the Mars transport, the benefits to mankind of such cosmic adventures as he can only dream of. It might be down in part too to the writing of this book, which never completely convinced me this was not partly the work of a mediocre ghost writer. Andrew Smith's Moondust book offered a much closer, in-depth look at all 12 lunar visitors, with very readable results.

But inasmuch as this is Buzz's life, Buzz's thoughts, drives, goals and ambitions, and inasmuch as I am a fan of space travel, I find it hard to begrudge him anything. He remains an in-demand speaker, and many will be the school-children coming away from his talks of his experiences he had before their parents were born with an urge of their own to go extra-terrestrial. With only a few flashbacks to his pre-lunar days this will disappoint some, but I found it more than readable enough, and while the book does not quite match the unique quality of the man, it is worth being on your shelves.

I must thank Bloomsbury for their review copy.

The young reader will get a lot from Moon: Science, History, and Mystery by Stewart Ross, while for more reading up on Apollo 11, the season has brought no end of celebratory titles to consider.

Buy Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin at Amazon.com.

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