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As part of a team of journalists from Newsday, Michael D'Antonio won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting before going on to write many acclaimed books, including his most recent, Mortal Sins. He has also written for publications such as Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and The New York Times Magazine.
Image credit: Photograph by B.D. Colen / ADIOL

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Review: A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey by Michael D'Antonio

The effect of Sputnik on the United States was electrifying. I was about 10 at the time. As it happened, we were on the 2nd and last year of our sojourn in Germany where my father was researching at the University of Heidelberg. The effect there was minimal, but from what I’ve read since, everyone in the U.S. was horrified at the pity shown to the United States, now clearly in a distant 2nd place. There is no doubt it had a substantial impact on the presidential election in 1960 along with the non-existent missile gap.

The author begins with Soviet initiatives, but most of the book, which covers but a year up through 1958, is devoted to American political in-fighting and initiatives. It was former Nazi rocket scientists like Werner Von Braun(1) and his German colleagues who created their own little enclave near Huntsville, Alabama, that gave the U.S. an edge.

Aside from the interesting technical details, D’Antonio provides a broad picture of life in the fifties and especially the cultural changes that were wrought by enormous sums of money poured into places like Cape Canaveral and Huntsville; places that had been mere backwaters exploded into rapidly expanding subdivisions with concomitant increases in real estate values.

Sputnik had enormous policy and cultural implications and changes. Soon, in the guise of protecting America from the Red Menace, every group imaginable from the NEA and National Science Foundation, to politicians who wanted more money for their districts, to weapons manufacturers, to the Air Force and Army at loggerheads on which service was to control missiles, was clamoring for huge increases in the federal budget for their projects. Articles in the press naively drawing on PR the Soviets were putting out, talked about Russian nuclear trains, ships, airplanes and satellites. So, not only was there a missile gap (ironically thanks to the U-2 Eisenhower knew this was a chimera)(2), but a science gap, and education gap, a you-name-it-gap, and anyone who suggested otherwise had to be a Commie. People who formerly had been unalterably opposed to federal support for local education, now changed their tune and bellied up to the trough. Eisenhower was in a touch position. He warned of the military-industrial symbiosis, but the political pressure from both sides was just too much.

In the meantime, rocket launches at Cape Canaveral were beset with all sorts of failures, some spectacularly public, others seemingly mundane. In one case, because some special paper had been loaded backwards into the printer, the results appeared to be the opposite of what was good, and the missile was destroyed fearing it would go off course or explode uncontrollably.

PR became crucial in the battle between the Army, Air Force and later NASA for control of rocketry. Eisenhower was anxious to have civilian control of space, while the military and people like Edward Teller were anxious to dominate the Russians using military control of space. The perception was the Russians were ahead and they clearly had more powerful rockets, but that dominance vanished quickly. This was the time of Public Relations. Edward Bernays had revolutionized how we view control of consent and his book Crystallizing Public Opinion and Engineering Consent became bibles of the industry. I will have to read them.

It’s astonishing today to see what they got away with in the fifties in the name of science. Project Argos, for example, exploded low-yield high altitude nuclear weapons in space to determine the effect of radiation on all sorts of things, but the main objective was to study the Christofilos Effect hoping that it would be possible to protect against a Soviet nuclear attack by exploding nuclear bombs high over the Pacific. The idea was to create a barrier of electrons that would fry the electronics of Soviet warheads and possibly also to blind Soviet radar to a U.S. counter-attack. I suppose one could argue the tests were a great success because we learned it wouldn't work. It was all terribly secret, of course.

A truly fascinating look into the culture and history of the U.S., and to some extent Soviet, space race.

(1) Hunt, Linda. Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990. St Martins P, 1991.

(2) Beschloss, M. (2016). Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 affair. Open Road Media.

Jacobsen, Annie. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. Little, Brown, 2014.
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Markeret
ecw0647 | 2 andre anmeldelser | Apr 21, 2023 |
This is a well written snapshot of Donald Trump, man of the good, bad and ugly components of his troubled personality are carefully noted with a long list of sources.

The book begins with the relationship he had with his father. A wealthy man who also dabbled in real estate in New York City to make his fortune, Donald quickly learned at the feet of the master. Greatly surpassing his father in accumulated, tangible assets, Trump wheeled and dealed using the infamous lawyer Roy Cohen to help sue his way to the top. The art of bombastic personality and the never ending need to deflate and defame those who do not agree with him has sadly landed him a conflicted person who makes it known when he does not agree with the way he is treated, never minding the way he treats others.

I won't make this review a political statement. I read the book to learn more about Trump and how his personality developed. This was a good reference.
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Markeret
Whisper1 | 3 andre anmeldelser | Dec 11, 2021 |
I picked this book up during the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency, simply to try to remember ​how Obama's first few months compared to Trump​'s. ​Since Trump's innaguration, ​I can't remember one day when the lead story in the news was something other than news about President Trump - some signing statement, some new proclimation, or some new controversy. I just couldn't remember Obama being covered so completely at the same point in his presidency, and wanted to see if that was because of my faulty memory, or a true reflection of ​how Obama was covered by the media during ​his early term.

​The author, Michael ​D'Antonio doesn't try to make a comparison of each President's earl​iest days, but he does remind readers that both men were busy, each clearly with a different focus. Few of us will need to be reminded that on the Home front, Obama's initial focus was on trying to prevent the Country from going into a full recession and to turn the economic downturn around. ​Like Trump, another early ​Obama ​focus was on Health Care, ​trying to implement universal affordable health care insurance for Americans, ​trying to ​prevent individuals with significant health issues from being dropped by their insurer, and allowing young adults to remain on their parent's policies​ until they were 26. ​Following passage of the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare), Obama turned his attention on environmental issues​. While he took steps to try to protect rivers and streams from pollution, and to prevent pollutants being discharged into the air, his signature accomplishment (as seen by his supporters) was his leadership and negotiations with major industrial nations to complete an agreement by virtually every Nation in the world to set goals to reduce carbon discharges into the atmosphere to limit ​the impacts of man-made ​climate change in the future.

On the international stage, I ​would have expected M​r. D'Antonio​to would have highlighted ​the Obama Administration's finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden as a foreign policy accomplishment​, but I don't remember that being addressed. The author did address other uses of armed forces under Obama though. Obama ​tried to de-emphasize America's involvement in foreign wars, substituting use of armed drones to take out key terrorist leaders vs. more troops on the ground. He also tried ​encouraging ​NATO ​nations and/or foreign leaders in war zones ​to take a more active role in their own affairs. However, as the ​current ​state of affairs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, etc. point out, finding suitable partners to ​provide effective fighting forces to defeat terrorist forces has been a difficult task. ​

​Also on international matters, Obama did break down ​the ​isolation barriers with Cuba, and along with other major Nations, negotiated a deal with Iran to stop uranium enrichment programs and progress toward nuclear weapons proliferation.​ ​He also worked to shift American interests toward the Pacific region and negotiate Pacific oriented Trade agreements, but these may ​not be lasting achievements going forward under the current Administration.

All in all, the author provided a good review of the more significant accomplishments achieved by the Obama Administration. Supporters​ will​ have their opinion, and opponents theirs, ​but ​only history will tell whether these Obama domestic and foreign policy accomplishments will be enduring or short-lived, beneficial or folly.
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Markeret
rsutto22 | 2 andre anmeldelser | Jul 15, 2021 |
Excellent, very thorough coverage of the Trump Administrations conduct and crime that led to his impeachment. I thought the book was presented in a fair and balanced way, and the author seemed to keep his personal feelings out of it. There was a lot (really, a lot) of information, much that was either not covered by the press or was under-reported. As I write this, Trump is in the final month of his reign, fighting tooth and nail to hang on. It appears that he has learned nothing from his past failures.… (mere)
 
Markeret
1Randal | 1 anden anmeldelse | Dec 21, 2020 |

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