Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

‘Shoot for the Moon’ book review: Go for liftoff

March 4, 2019

shoot for the moon

Landing the first man on the moon was perhaps mankind’s most enormous undertaking, and in Shoot for the Moon (Little, Brown and Company, March 12) writer James Donovan does an excellent job of telling that story from its World War II rocket weapon origins through that first small step for a man on the moon (as he notes first moonwalker Neil Armstrong meant to say).

An ardent follower of NASA since my childhood in the ’60s and a resident of Houston since 1983, I’m more familiar than the average person with these things, and I can testify that readers will gain immense knowledge and details from Donovan, who seems to get everything right.

Well, almost everything.


‘Chasing New Horizons’ Book Review: Go for Launch

April 24, 2018

New Horizons

Like many who conceived, designed, created, launched and tracked the magnificent bound-for-Pluto spacecraft called New Horizons, I grew up a space geek.

I loved the enticing mysteries of our universe. I devoured science and sci-fi books about it. I even launched my own model rockets, courtesy of Estes Industries.

So it was only fitting that my journalistic career took me to Houston, where I’ve lived since the early ’80s, proud of being a citizen of Space City, whose neighbors reach for the stars.

But those are manned missions. The first closeup looks at our planetary neighbors must come from robotic scouts — and spacecraft such as New Horizons, which made humanity’s first historic flyby of  Pluto in July 2015 after a journey of nine years and three billion miles.

Not that this robotic machine was soulless — not when so many humans’ efforts, hopes and dreams went into it, and traveled with it in spirit.

From such dreams to mission-accomplished reality is the compelling tale of Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon, due May 1 from Picador.


Book Review: ‘Get What’s Yours For Medicare’

September 27, 2016


Philip Moeller’s Get What’s Yours For Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs, due Oct. 4 from Simon & Schuster, is a companion of sorts to the excellent Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, a book he co-wrote which returned last spring in updated form.

Baby Boomers nearing retirement age (please note I didn’t say simply “retirement,” since many will continue to work), these books are for you.

Yes, Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs into which you’ve paid federal taxes for years, and you should take advantage of what’s available to you. But no, neither program is simple to comprehend and navigate, and crucial mistakes in enrollment and options are easy to make.

Moeller makes this clear in the early going, with the terse line “This stuff is complicated.” That certainly goes for initial entry into Medicare, a hard lesson that I learned months before reading this book when I struggled to get straight answers from the Social Security Administration and elsewhere about how Medicare works.


Book Review ‘Into the Black’: Glorious Liftoff

April 13, 2016


Rowland White

Author Rowland White of the new space history book ‘Into the Black.’

As a longtime resident of Houston, I’m subject to a chicken-or-the-egg question: Is my love of space why I live in Houston, or has living in Houston sparked my love of space?

Actually, it’s a bit of both, because I’ve been space-fascinated since, as a boy of 6, Sputnik 1 became the first satellite to reach Earth orbit (though I was watching Leave It to Beaver‘s premiere in Waco at the time.)

But I also moved to Houston — just two years after the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981 –and I’ve been here ever since, sharing my adopted community’s grief over the wrenching tragedies of losing two Shuttle crews, but also the triumphs of our continued space endeavors.

As a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, I also had the honor of interviewing such space pioneers as Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan, Alan Bean, Buzz Aldrin and Gene Kranz, and I cheered from the sidewalk as John Glenn rode down Texas Avenue in a parade after his return from a 1998 Discovery mission.

Now I’m faced with the most detailed history I’ve ever read spanning both eras — from the first space missions of my childhood to the soon-routine flights of the Shuttle while I lived in Space City. That history is Rowland White’s Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts Who Flew Her.

Due April 19 from Touchstone, the hardcover, 464-page book is a compelling read. Based on White’s extensive research, interviews and newly declassified documents, it details how a parallel military space program evolved during NASA’s early years, then spun off into alignment with the space agency for development of the incredible space plane known simply (thanks to President Nixon) as the Space Shuttle.


Book Review: ‘The Dylanologists’

May 11, 2014



With The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Simon & Schuster, $25, due May 13), author David Kinney pays tribute to the influential singer-songwriter’s most obsessive fans — the kind who don’t just memorize ever lyric, but buy every piece of Dylan’s life they can acquire.

“Once you own Bob Dylan’s highchair, it becomes easy to rationalize any other purchase,” Kinney writes.

Oh, does it? Actually, once you buy and own Dylan’s highchair, no rationalization is left to you. Rather, you’ve branded yourself as no better than the most obsessive fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, Elvis, James Dean, the Beatles, Harry Potter, Spider-Man or any other real or imagined figures who are — at least to fans — larger than life.

This is a tribute to Dylan and his awesome influence? I think not. Dylan would probably be embarrassed to read this book — not just for himself, but for those who, as Bill Shatner famously said, need to get a life.


Book Review: 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story

November 4, 2012

In an age of Kindle and digital miniaturization of our shelves once filled with books, LPs and DVDs, is there room for a coffee table book? There should be if it’s 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story, a look back at the most important record label for decades on its 125th anniversary.

Written by Sean Wilentz, this large and heavy tome isn’t meant for exploration on a hand-held screen, but as a lavishly illustrated history of a label that’s been home to great artists from Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Johnny Cash and Adele. They’re seen in more than 300 images from Columbia’s archives, with sidebar features by the likes of Springsteen historian Dave Marsh.

The essays are insightful, and the photos are fantastic, though I have one quibble: I’d have liked to have seen more original album covers showcased. Album covers are a great art, and deserve to be more than an anachronism in a digital age. But album art does arise, along with some remarkable double-truck (two-page) photos.

Due in stores and online Nov. 14, 360 Sound offers over 300 pages well worth thumbing through by anyone who finds it on your coffee table. These are musical greats from a great label. They need bigness. They need this.

— Bruce Westbrook