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One Giant Leap

The Untold Story of How We Flew to the Moon
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
Length: 15 hrs and 5 mins
Categories: History, 20th Century
4.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author of The Wal-Mart Effect Charles Fishman reveals the untold true story of the men and women charged with taking the United States to the moon.

President John F. Kennedy astonished the world on May 25, 1961, when he announced to Congress that the US would land a man on the moon by 1970. No group was more surprised than the engineers at NASA. On the day of the historic speech, America had a total of 15 minutes of spaceflight experience - with just five of those minutes outside the atmosphere. In fact, Soviet canines had more spaceflight experience than US astronauts.

To fulfill President Kennedy’s mandate, NASA engineers had to invent space travel. When Kennedy announced his goal, no one knew how to navigate to the moon. No one knew how to build a rocket big enough to fly to the moon. No one knew how to build a computer small enough to put on that rocket. No one knew how to feed astronauts in space, and no one knew how astronauts would even use the bathroom in space. And NASA had just nine years to make it happen.

In One Giant Leap, Charles Fishman introduces listeners to the men and women tasked with putting a man on the moon. From the halls of MIT, where the eccentric and legendary digital pioneer Charles Draper created the two computers aboard Apollo 11, to the factories where hundreds of women weaved computer programs with copper wire, Fishman captures the sweeping achievement of these ordinary Americans. This is the captivating story of men and women charged with changing the world as we know it - their leaders, their triumphs, their near disasters, all of which led to arguably the greatest success story of the 20th century. 

©2019 Charles Fishman (P)2019 Simon & Schuster

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  • Nat
  • 19-06-2019

The Apollo Program in Historical Context

One Giant Leap explains the hows and whys of the Apollo program, and the whys are what makes the story coherent and compelling. Fishman starts with the context of what the Soviets were accomplishing in the late 1950s, and how that affected attitudes in the US. Next we get President Kennedy's evolving thoughts on whether the US should even try to compete with the Soviets, eventually deciding that "If we can beat the Soviets to the moon, we should," and finally the well-known declaration about landing a man on the moon before the decade is out.

Next comes the hard part, figuring out how to get to the moon, and developing the technology to get there. Again, Fishman puts the situation in context, noting the state of technology in the late fifties & early sixties. Even integrated circuits were new. Space suits, rockets, the lunar lander, and the 1 cubic foot computer were all fascinating chapters in the book. I loved hearing all these details of the decade-long program where so many pieces had to come together to get the success of Apollo 11.

This is not a biography of astronauts, but rather a biography of the Apollo mission, with historical context to make every point clear and comprehensible. The narration was excellent--clear and enjoyable to listen to. I loved this book and hope you will too.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Lowball
  • 25-06-2019

This book explains why this was the last leap

Charles Fishman gives an entertaining and instructive account of the mad race to the moon. He details the harrowing mishaps and courageous acts of the astronauts. Much of the scientific advances are set in the context of the sixties. The Vietnam war was raging and the anti-war movement was in full swing. Even though Kennedy put the moon race expenses as second to the amount Americans spent on tobacco products. Having lived through this time I was reminded of how exciting it was.

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  • Lara
  • 27-06-2019

Worth a Listen

I’m kind of a space and history geek, so I enjoyed this book. But even I thought it could have used some editing. Those who don’t have a burning interest in the subject will likely find it tedious.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Smoke
  • 24-06-2019

Loved It

Loved this book! I learned so many interesting things about the race for the moon

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jeanbclaire
  • 14-07-2019

Fascinating story

I was in my twenties when the events of this story of sending a man to moon happened - but I knew only a very small bit of the story - this book should be listened to or read by all of us. It is a tribute to so much intelligence, courage and practicality that it is simply astounding and inspiring.

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  • John
  • 11-07-2019

One Giant Mishmash

In the 1960s we had rockets that could put men in orbit and take us to the moon. Now we don't. In the 1960s publishers had editors and fact checkers. If this book is any indication, now we don't.

The bottom line is that this book is badly organized and much too long. The author is very inefficient in his writing, which is made worse by extreme repetition. There are also some glaring factual errors. "Frank Wright" was not one of the Wright Brothers (how could this error possibly happen in a book on aerospace?). Ed White was not a Mercury astronaut (again, a fundamental error).

My estimate is that this book could have covered the same material much more cogently and elegantly in 10 hours instead of 15 (which would reduce the hardcover page count from 480 to 320). Apparently, the author and publisher didn't think a good editing was worth the trouble.

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading for Apollo junkies. The material about the Apollo Guidance Computer is fascinating. The information regarding Kennedy's private misgivings about the program is new (at least to me) and interesting. The final chapter summing up the meaning of Apollo has a lot of interesting parts, but, again, is much longer than it needs to be. I think that the author is probably right that Apollo ushered in the age of computer technology more than an age of exploration.

If you already know a lot about Apollo and have the time and the patience, you might want to listen or read this. If you are looking for a good general retrospective on the Apollo program or Apollo 11, there are many better choices, including A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, Failure Is Not an Option, by Flight Director Gene Kranz, or Carrying the Fire, by Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.

The narration is pretty good, thank goodness.

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  • coffeedave
  • 17-07-2020

Well researched. Fascinating!

If you are remotely interested in space and our race to the moon, you must read this.

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  • David Roden
  • 23-06-2020

Required Reading for Space Race fans

I have read nearly every book ever written about the Project Apollo, the space race, and the early days of the US space program. There are certain books that are required reading for these topics. Books Such as "Apollo" by Cox & Murray, and "A Man in the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin. In my opinion "One Giant Leap" joins these titles on the top shelf. Every year or so another new book re-hashes the same history and attempts to put some new spin on things. "One Giant Leap" is not one of those books. The details about the development and ultimate cultural significance of the Apollo guidance computer, including the profound impact on the manufacture of integrated circuits - this is one example of the appeal of the book. The discussion of the phrase "If we can put a man on the moon..." was equally fascinating. I can't wait to read (hear) it again.

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  • Kevin
  • 20-06-2020

Great Facts but Choppy

One Giant Leap is extremely good for those looking to have a better understanding of what took place to land a man on the moon. However, if you are looking for a book that’s a chronological historical reference, this probably isn’t the book for you at this time. Highly recommended you read it sometime though!

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  • Dan Webster
  • 16-06-2020

Very interesting anecdotes

Excellent selection of mini-stories. Unfortunately, the author makes several sweeping conclusions without much support, but the fascinating stories make this book one worth reading. For a preview of the content, you can listen to Fishman's interview on Fresh Air.