Biographers face the tough task of getting close to their subjects and then writing about them objectively. These three books took very different approaches with varying degrees of success.
Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, this book is a must for anyone interested in the space program. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was an complex, talented woman who encouraged young girls to enter science careers and dream about space. She challenged NASA on its attitudes towards safety for astronauts after the shuttle disasters and participated in several presidential commissions on the future of space exploration. There's a detailed look at her shuttle flights and also at her outreach programs after she left NASA.
On another level, it's a balanced look at someone who had to hide a significant part of her life for almost all of it. The times demanded it, her profession demanded it, and her background and upbringing seemed to make it easier to comply. She was fortunate in her friends who kept her secrets but it does make me wonder what would have happened if she had revealed it sooner. The final chapters will make you tear up as she battles pancreatic cancer.
Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree. This is not a biography. About 40% of the book focuses on the moon landing. Add in Gemini 8 and two spaceflights take up almost 60% of the book. Once the moon landing is over, the rest of Neil Armstrong's life - more than half his lifespan - is dismissed in a bare 50 pages. That said, I am a complete space nerd. I loved the thorough coverage of the moon landing! Many of the photos were new to me and they were stunning. The stories of Neil, Buzz, and Michael working together were fascinating. The extensive research made for some excellent details.
There should have been more about Neil's background and early life. What made him the stoic he was? More information about his life after the moon would have been appropriate, too, for this to be a biography. One more thing struck me. There is only one mention of a woman outside the roles of wife and mother. Christa MacAuliffe is mentioned in the shuttle disaster. That's it. This is why Sally Ride is so important to American women and space exploration.
Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. This isn't a biography either. It's a fun, fast read that left me wanting more information. I had high hopes for this book. Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer relegated the astronauts' wives to background status in their books. I had hoped for more meat from a woman given so much access to these wives. The wives had to put up with a lot on the ground while their husbands lived in the NASA protective bubble. The wives were very much products of their times. The stories are sketchy at times, I think because the writer tried to cram too much into one short book. Still, I liked it.