by Tom Wolfe
I suspect that anyone over a certain age can probably recite the names of at least a few of the members of Astronaut Group 1, otherwise known as the Mercury Seven. I thought of three off the top of my head — John Glenn, Gus Grissom, and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (The others were Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.) These were the men chosen in 1959 to lead the nation into space, and the subject of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, The Right Stuff. The book itself is a leading example of the New Journalism. According to Wikipedia, Wolfe codified the label New Journalism in a 1973 collection entitled The New Journalism, which included articles by himself, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Joan Didion and others. This type of writing is characterized by the use of techniques borrowed from literary fiction (while clearly intended to be read as non–fiction). Among its tenets are describing the action through the point of view of various characters as well as a reliance on showing events as they occurred, rather than recounting them in retrospect. Nowhere is this style of writing better displayed than in The Right Stuff, Wolfe’s now classic (even iconic) account that depicts the Mercury Seven astronauts in all their swagger, guts, and glory. It begins with their early years as pilots, describes the battery of tests they had to take before being accepted into the space program (and their reactions to those tests), as well as offering exciting descriptions of their first flights into space. Readers looking for evocative writing and a peep into the world of the best and the brightest of the space program will find it all here.