Sputnik (Paul Dickson – 2007)

The launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 spooked the world. It was a monumental event that forever changed the world. It’s significance has dwindled for the generations born since then, but the impact it made and the changes that came about because of it still reverberate today.

This book attempts to chronicle not only the event, but the repercussions and the resulting ‘space race’ that strove for supremacy to the moon and beyond. While space and rocket research was well underway in both the US and Soviet Union before the historic flight, the west and the world was caught off guard upon hearing the little basketball sized satellite had achieved orbit. As little as it was, the significance was almost breathtaking at the time and the technology and rocket power required were beyond the reaches of the US. Not only did the US then stumble in its initial attempts at its own satellite, but the Russians seemed to steadily up the ante with greater satellites and other advances that kept the US steps behind for some time.

As is usual in these cases, there are a lot of twists and turns, fate, and ironies behind both sides of the competing nations and this book attempts to capture all of the behind the scenes maneuvering as well as what the public was seeing at the time. Even though I think of myself as being fairly knowledgeable on the subject of space history and Sputnik itself, I too was surprised at the magnitude of event as presented by the many anecdotes in the book. I now have a greater appreciation of the role Sputnik played as well as a deeper understanding of just how great a technical achievement it was. My one dislike of the book is a bit of sloppy editing as a few of the events were repeated two or three times.

There are a lot of better books about space history available, but if you want to know about Sputnik in particular, this should fit the bill.

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