I used to write a lot of book reviews for the likes of the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Northern Sky News, and others.
But anymore it seems that no one is interested in book reviews. I queried about 15 magazines and newspapers to review this latest book by Buzz Aldrin, and not one of them even responded to me, let alone to say no.
But I still receive books from publishers, and I still love to read them, so I'd thought I'd just review it here.
The most recent book was Buzz Aldrin's Magnificent Desolation: A Long Journey Home from the Moon.
Reading about the Apollo program always does it for me, and as the 2nd man to set foot on the moon Aldrin was right in the middle of that. He came back from the Moon a genuine hero.
And he has certainly done more, probably, than any other astronaut to continue to encourage the US's involvement in space exploration. And that includes his famous punch-out of someone who accused him and NASA of hoaxing.
But a curious thing happened as I progressed through the book. I began to like Aldrin less and less as his years went by.
Early on he was the big NASA moon lander, a PhD from MIT, and ex-fighter pilot, and he seemingly had it all. But as the years have gone by he seems to be advocating mostly for just one thing: Buzz Aldrin.
But let me back up a little. In this book Aldrin does an admirable and even courageous job writing about his post-moon feelings and his problems with depression and alcohol. People in his generation and at his level weren't supposed to have such problems. Certainly, his strict military father never abided them. Aldrin wrote some about this in an earlier book, and so in some ways this just feels like another book to promote his interests and make him some money.
The best parts of the book are when Aldrin is truly struggling with himself to find his path after the Apollo 11 landing, his middle-life crisis enlarged by his fame and his accomplishments. It had to have been a difficult transition for him. I wish he has spilled more about his feelings then, but he was a 1960s engineer, and feelings were not his expertise.
He lost his original marriage, sank into depression and alcoholism, and seemed severely lost. But then -- too quickly, it almost seems -- he found AA and then met a rich woman from Laguna Beach and all his issues came back into focus and he ended up back on top of the world, traveling everywhere, scuba-diving here and skiing there and meeting kings and queens and movie producers all over the world.
The problem, I think, is that Aldrin thinks his experiences with the latter are more important than anything he did on the moon, or prior to it. He clearly has a large ego and it clearly needs to be fed, and too much of the last half of the book seems to be just fodder for his ego, proclaiming about his beautiful and rich third wife and all the attention he gets on this or that forgotten sit-com.
Aldrin seems mostly to want to make a lot of money and fame from his name and his accomplishments. It seems to pervade every move he makes. But I'd be more satisfied if he himself valued more his time aboard the Gemini and Apollo missions, when he pulled out his trusty sliderule to calculate rendezvous coordinates, or the few hours he got to hop onto the moon. We need those heroes, a lot more than we need ex-astronauts who awkwardly appear on episodes of Punky Brewster. But even more than heroes we just need sound, level-headed people who have been there and know the ropes.
PS: Did you know that Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was "Moon?"