Every now and again you find an author whose work is both wonderfully entertaining and extraordinarily well written. That was my experience when I found The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I wasn’t breathlessly waiting for someone to write a book about America’s early space program, so I didn’t rush to read this one. But when I did, I was a Tom Wolfe fan for life.
The Right Stuff details the exploits of test pilot Chuck Yeager as he endeavored to break speed and altitude records, then transitions to NASA’s Mercury program. The film adapted from this book was good, but Wolfe’s book is so much better. (As is the case for virtually every movie made from a book.) Wolfe found that Navy pilots had a 23 percent likelihood of dying in an accident. So why were they so eager to become pilots in the first place? Because they had something special inside them — “the right stuff.”
Here’s Wolfe’s explanation of how he came to write The Right Stuff: “This book grew out of some ordinary curiosity. What is it, I wondered, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan, or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse? I decided on the simplest approach possible. I would ask a few astronauts and find out.”