Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Race

Published By: Times Books

Book Category: Non-Fiction, History

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Reviewed by Kristin Grabarek

Nikita Khrushchev was tired of looking over his shoulder for American spies, so he forced Americans look over their heads for Soviet spies. Author Michael Brzezinski, is a former Wall Street Journal Moscow correspondent. This is the premise which brings us this history that folds the launch of Sputnik into the historical narrative of the Cold War, resulting in a suspenseful drama of a satellite upon which the fate of the world seemed to rest for a brief period.

Set in the Kremlin, Washington, D.C., and secret research facilities, this history of the space race is told largely from the Soviet perspective. It reveals how deeply two world superpowers were fighting over world dominance, defined as dominance of the cosmos. The narrative builds with the increasing complexity of the tenacious characters it chronicles, and climaxes with the fear Sputnik struck in the hearts of Americans. Brzezinski brings forth the paranoia of the time to set the tone and play a major role in his narrative.

Brzezinski’s work is more entertaining than necessary. Though he adds new interviews and documentary sources to Space Race history, Brzezinski adds few, if any, new facts.

His account of the beginning of the space race does go far to humanize familiar space-age characters. Khrushchev’s son is added to the narrative, asking readers to accept a sense of Soviet innocence and making the senior Khrushchev not only a communist leader, but a father.

Brzezinski challenged himself by choosing to write on a subject that has recently been revisited by historians. The old history—chronological, detailing technology created and used by a series of stiff historical players—has been widely replaced by new narratives of the space race that focus on singular parts of the race at the expense of providing complete accounts. But Brzezinski created his own niche in the history of the space race: he tells the traditional narrative against a new backdrop, focusing on the paranoia in both the Soviet Union and the United States to portray the launch of Sputnik as the terrifying, brilliant event that it was.

Armchair Interviews says: If you remember this event first-hand, you will find it fascinating reading.

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