Monday, June 15, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's Magnificent Desolation

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?"


Florence said...

Buzz Aldrin's new children's book may be of interest to your readers:


By Buzz Aldrin
Paintings by Wendell Minor

2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon on July 20, 1969. In LOOK TO THE STARS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 9780399247217; On sale May 14, 2009; 40 pages; Ages 6 up/Grades 1 up; $17.99) Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin – the second man to set foot on the moon -- takes readers on a journey through the amazing history of the origins of flight and space exploration. Marvelous paintings by Wendell Minor bring the journey to life.

Beginning with the contributions of Isaac Newton and Nicolaus Copernicus, chronicling the exciting development of the first rocket and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and ending with a look at what the future might hold for space exploration and colonization, Aldrin’s informative, kid-friendly text will fascinate children of all ages. Each magnificent spread provides a wonderful jumping-off point for young readers, and will no doubt inspire them to look to the stars themselves. With Minor’s beautifully detailed illustrations, LOOK TO THE STARS is a perfect introduction to the whole history of space exploration.

Aldrin and Minor previously collaborated on the bestselling Reaching for the Moon.

About the author:
Buzz Aldrin ( was an Apollo 11 astronaut, one of the first two men to walk on the moon. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, founded a rocket design company, Starcraft Boosters, Inc., and founded the ShareSpace Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to opening the doors to space tourism for all people. His Reaching for the Moon (also illustrated by Wendell Minor) was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

About the Illustrator:
Wendell Minor ( has traveled all over the U.S. to research his art for numerous picture books. His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Museum of American Illustration, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard, and NASA. He lives in Washington, Connecticut.

LOOK TO THE STARS by Buzz Aldrin, Paintings by Wendell Minor
▪ G. P. Putnam’s Sons ▪ A Division of Penguin Young Readers Group ▪ $17.99
On Sale May 14, 2009 ▪ ISBN: 978-0-399-24721-7 ▪ Picture Book/Nonfiction ▪ Ages 6 up

C. R. Bishop said...

Thank you. It is a true loss that "no one is interested in book reviews", meaning, I gather, journalistic industries. I cannot imagine that readers will ever lose such interest. I was looking for a review of this book and found yours. I am a voracious reader of books and reviews. So, again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well I just got the signed copy of the very book, by the very man tonight. It did come across as commercial excercise, the whole experience of the interview, chaired by Andrew Smith (author of "Moondust" - which is a great read). However Buzz still comes across as an active supporter of space exploration and entertains the idea of having colonies on Mars. One can understand that it comes naturally to the man and perhaps he's simply celebrating the good life after all the success, downfall and pulling through.None of us here had that experience - to continue living and how, after that, cannot be a simple task. Perhaps it's a story with the message to give yourself a break and enjoy & celebrate good fortunes in life?
I am yet to read the book, so I am thankful for the comments ( thought I share my experience of the interview anyhow :)
Lj.Evans, London, UK