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Sputnik: The Shock of the Century    by Paul Dickson order for
by Paul Dickson
Order:  USA  Can
Walker, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

If you're a fan of books like Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, or movies like Ron Howard's remarkable Apollo 13, you'll want to check out this new book about Sputnik 1, the Russian satellite that launched Oct. 4, 1957, and changed the course of history.

That little beep-beep sound from space, broadcast over the radio around the world, was kind of like - if you don't mind a little poetic exaggeration - a screeching alarm to the United States. Holy cow! The Russians are in space! They're more technologically advanced than we are! And the race was on: the arms race, the space race (in Canada, the book's subtitle is 'The Launch of the Space Race'), the race for world supremacy. They call it the Cold War, but who are they kidding? It was flaming hot.

Dickson, who's written books about libraries, baseball, words, and (yes) ice cream, brings his usual eye for detail to this story. He chronicles the development of Sputnik - what it meant to the Soviet Union, what it meant to the world - and the U.S.'s various plans to put their own hardware into space. Full of colorful personalities and plenty of high-flyin' excitement, it's a thrilling adventure. It deserves to be put on the shelf right beside Tom Wolfe's masterpiece, and that's saying a lot.

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