Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon

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Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon

By James Harford
John Wiley, 1997
392 pp. $30.00
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A brisk, readable biography of the man behind the Soviet space program by a veteran of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Harford has drawn extensively on interviews and, to a lesser extent, secondary sources, as well as Cold War-era translations of Soviet materials. Sergei Korolev, kept in the shadows by his political masters throughout his life, began his work as a victim of Stalin's purges in a Soviet sharashka, or prison camp for scientists. His internment did not prevent him, however, from throwing the whole of his enormous energy and practical skill into the service of the Soviet state. The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union forms the core of the book, and Harford does a fine job of telling just enough about the American side to put Soviet achievements and activities in perspective. Energy, vast resources, and the creativity of Korolev and others like him did much to compensate for the absurdities of Soviet economics, but could only go so far. They beat the United States into space initially but lived to see their rivals beat them to the moon and beyond. A truly scholarly study will, no doubt, emerge in time, but this is a worthy book nonetheless.