Review by Bill Doughty
“One Giant Leap: Neil Armstrong’s Stellar American Journey” is a full-sweep look at the life of the first American to walk on the moon.
Neil Armstrong, whose life was memorialized this week, is presented as a naval aviator/astronaut, scientist/teacher and humble lifetime civil servant. He was a fighter ace in Korea, helping to win the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s, demonstrating the free world’s ultimate victory in 1969 when he stepped on the Moon as part of Apollo 11.
Written by Leon Wagener, “One Giant Leap” shows Armstrong’s life from his birth in a farmhouse in Ohio in the midst of the Depression; through his journey of adventure via Purdue and Pensacola as a student, pilot and astronaut; then to life as a professor who championed innovation, melding space science with medicine; and finally to his life back to a farm in Ohio.
Wagener describes a man of ideas and wide interests who loved Japanese culture and enjoyed visiting and camping at Mt. Fuji. He loved to fly, and after leaving the Navy became a test pilot for NASA. Shunning the limelight of fame and the intrusion of politics, he chose to live quietly and promote science and critical thinking.
Neil Armstrong tried to inspire people to see the earth with from another perspective and to consider the need for protecting global ecology. Wagener writes about Armstrong’s address to the World Wildlife Fund’s second international congress in 1970, just one year after he walked on the moon, in which he campaigned for environmental conservation.
Earthrise in lunar orbit, July 20, 1969.
Armstrong told the group, “The earth today is an oasis of life in space. It is the only island we know is a suitable home for man. I have a deep sense of the finite significance of our fragility. We are a fragile planet, physically so interdependent...We must find ways to protect it. The importance of protecting and saving that home has never been felt more strongly. Protection seems most required, however, not from foreign aggressors or natural calamity, but from its own population.”
Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, developer of the Heimlich Manuever and medical inventions, partnered with Armstrong for innovations in engineering and medicine. “What Neil had brought to us represented precisely the new concepts I was after: miniaturization, low energy consumption, and simplicity,” Heimlich recalled with the author.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s dust cover:
“In this, the first-ever biography of Neil Armstrong, Leon Wagner explores the man whose walk is still compared to humankind’s progenitor’s crawl out of the primordial ooze -- and whose retreat to a farm in his native Ohio soon after the last ticker tape confetti fell has caused him to be looked upon as a reclusive hermit ever since.
“This is the true story of a national hero whose lifelong quest to walk on the moon truly mirrors our best selves. He’s an American who daily braved incredible danger over a long career and finally broke free of Earth’s bonds, achieving what seemed impossible and proving forever that man can reach for the stars and succeed.
“Relying on hundreds of interviews with family and friends of the astronaut, plus generous access to NASA files, Leon Wagener explores the life of one of America’s true heroes...”
Wagener’s book on Armstrong, which, by the way, is rich with photos, including one of Armstrong and VF-51 of USS Essex (CV 9), was one of the few I could find written for adults. For obvious reasons, there are many more books about Armstrong and space exploration written for young people. Continuing with our Navy Reads “back to school” theme this month, parents may wish to look for Neil Armstrong biographies and books about astronauts as they choose to inspire their children with dreams of the moon and stars and a life anchored in science, technology, engineering and math.
Watch the amazing naval aviators’ tribute to Neil Armstrong: “We’re all indebted to him and the things that he did and the risks that he took.”
NORTH ARABIAN GULF (March 10, 2010) Capt. Roy J. Kelley, commander of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, and Capt. Dee L. Mewbourne, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) present Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, with his Navy Astronaut wings in a ceremony aboard the ship as fellow astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, looks on. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach)
The Navy paid tribute to American hero Neil Armstrong with a burial at sea Sept. 14 aboard USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).