"As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons. Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night. As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history"--
The real life stories of these women are fascinating. As the wives of the astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs, they faced a uniquely weird situation. Stressful, scary, financially challenging, and often solitary, they had to anchor their families while dealing with the press attempting to poke into every aspect of their lives.
The challenging thing about writing a book about these women is that what you have mostly is a collection of anecdotes. One on one, they are extremely interesting, especially if you're a fan of the space program, or even of the general era. It's Mad Men in space, what's not to like? But the anecdotes don't really come together to form a larger story - because they're real life things that happened to real life people, and life doesn't always have a clear narrative arc. And I got the feeling the author was trying to impose one here. It felt a little forced to me. The author made some strange choices about what to include, even word choice sometimes felt off. The respect and regard that she has for these women clearly came through, which was nice, but I suspect the more personal relationships she developed with them led her to assume that some connections or implications were obvious to readers.
The overall theme is that these women were presented in the media as perfect wives, raising perfect kids and whole-heartedly supporting their husbands in particular and the space program and democracy in general. In reality, their lives were frequently disrupted, NASA didn't provide a lot of support, and they often struggled with issues both personal to their marriages as well as larger social changes in the U.S. All of this is exactly what anyone would assume before even reading the book, right? None of that is surprising.
It's so intrinsically interesting that I'm glad I read it, but overall I had a hard time with the style. "Trying too hard" is how I would sum it up.
I also have serious doubts about it's accuracy after reading about "SENATOR" Richard Nixon and the famous Kitchen Debate with Nikita Khrushchev. Seems to me Hachette laid off too many Senior editors and published a mediocre book that would make a quick buck (New York Times Bestseller, which it is)!
I've read The Lost Moon by Jim Lovell twice.
The story of the the wives of the astronauts had, astonishingly, never been told prior to this. One of the things I learned through this book is that only the marriages of the Apollo 8 astronauts managed to survive. The stress that these women were under was hardly less than the stress their husbands were under.
I did enjoy the book enough that I would recommend it to those with an interest in the topic, but I will warn friends that it doesn't quite live up to its potential.
Those alive during those decades might remember some of the names mentioned in the book. I had no idea that the women were under such public scrutiny. Their photos were in Life magazine along with personal tidbits about every aspect of their lives. Like politicians and movie stars, their lives became public domain as Americans clamored for more information about the men behind the space suits. Life magazine even had reporters in their homes while their husbands’ lives hung in the balance on various flights.
Koppel gives the dirty details about the clothes, the fights, and the quirks of the women, but there was certainly a darker side to the story as well. Many of the men were cheating on their wives and multiple marriages ended in divorce. Others ended when something went wrong on a mission and men were lost. The public grieving that followed was painful to read about.
It’s funny, when thinking about astronauts and their incredible courage and accomplishments; I don’t think I’ve ever reflected on the women who stood behind them. How terrifying that must have been to watch your husband be shot off into space in a rocket!
BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed learning more about the women behind those famous men. My one complaint is that they tended to all blend together for me. The author jumps between groups of women and it was hard to distinguish one from another.
This is one of my favorites of 2013.
I received a free copy of this book.
It was fascinating to read about how NASA pretty much forced these women to be perfect American wives, who always have the house clean and breakfast ready for their astronauts at 5 am sharp. When the program first started, an astronaut's chances of going up in to space was largely dependent on how stable and stress-free their marriages were. That meant the wives had to project an air of selflessness, patriotism, and unwavering support for their husbands, despite long absences from home and frequent dalliances with astronaut groupies (called "Cape Cookies"). As the years passed from the prim and proper 60s to the more liberated 70s, however, the women began to break out of the cookie-cutter "Squaresville" that NASA set up for them, and started pursuing careers and activities that they have been wanting to do for years (including a deluge of divorces). I appreciate that Koppel wasn't afraid to talk about the not-so-great things the astronauts and their wives did, instead of painting them all as perfect American Dream families. Koppel gained a lot of her information from face-to-face interviews with some of the wives, and their voices really shine through the pages.
Koppel spent a good amount of time getting us acquainted with the First Seven wives, and they each had distinct personalities. However, as the number of wives grew, Koppel spent less time on most individuals and instead talked about certain specific events and the wives they directly affected. I would have gladly spent another 300 pages reading about each wife in more detail!
Funnily enough, I kept thinking about what an awesome TV show this would make, a la Mad Men. After a quick Google search, I found that they are, in fact, making a TV show! Unfortunately, it's going to air on ABC family so we probably won't get all the grittiness and historical accuracy as it could get on another network, but I'll remain cautiously optimistic.
This is one of my favorites of 2013.
I received a free copy of this book.
Outside of the support that they gave each other, I did appreciate hearing about the tragedies of the space program and how they dealt with their grief alone and collectively.
The audio book seemed repetitious and I really think that making into a book that you can hear was a mistake because of the voices. The voices of the different women were OK as I did not have any idea what they sounded like in real life. All the voices of the men were flops. I did a double take when President John F. Kennedy sounded like a southerner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson didn’t sound anything like him. I grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s and I was shocked!
This audio book is truly disappointing.
The wives were closely monitored by NASA, and they were expected to be perfect, right down to the clothes they wore and the food they served their husbands. They could not turn to their husbands to deal with the pressures of publicity, because they were too busy training, and NASA was too busy trying to figure out how to get their husbands to the moon, so the wives turned to each other for support. They were there for each other as they waited for husbands to safely return to earth, and also in times of tragedy.
I really enjoyed this book, but I wish it had been a few chapters longer; while reading, I got wrapped up in the lives of these extraordinary women and I wanted to read even more of their stories. I also wish the author had included a chapter from the point of view of the children of the astronauts.
While looking up some more information online about the wives after I started reading this book, I learned that ABC has a television series in the works based on this book, premiering in June; I am looking forward to watching it and seeing how it compares to the book.
I may have enjoyed the book more if I weren't reading it for book group. I had rather expected something more. More detailed, more meaty, more history? I'm not sure, exactly. I looked up reviews while I was reading, and saw words like "breezy" and "chatty" used to describe it, and that is truly more what it is. It's not the book's fault that it wasn't quite what I wanted. There are many wives that I found easy to mix up, there are many years covered, and much of what is included, as I gather from an author interview, is what Koppel herself found most interesting. All well and good, but sadly it meant that the wives I was most interested in sometimes weren't detailed as much as I'd like and stories like a Russian woman astronaut going into orbit just a little while after John Glenn testified that women shouldn't be in space are told in a few short paragraphs. There is so much that could have been explored deeper. But maybe that's left for me as the reader and book discussion facilitator to do. Unfortunately, though the book is good for what it is, I found it a little disappointing.
Like others said, this could have been a lot better. It really skipped around near the end and I got thoroughly confused. I'm glad these women got their stories out, but maybe it should have been done sooner and by someone else. Maybe Rene Carpenter would have written it better.
As a side note, I finished this audiobook on way home from seeing the movie version of the Martian, which added an interesting element to the ending. I was listening to an audiobook that explored issues surrounding the first Americans in space, and then followed that with a fictional (but realistic) tale of further American space exploration. it was very interesting.
This is a relatively quick read, but the author could have made it easier on the reader by not including so many characters or at least having a list of names/missions at the beginning of the book. It was very hard to keep track of who was who towards the end.