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Review: The Astronaut Wives Club

August 8, 2013

The Astronaut Wives Club

When the US entered the space race there was a fierce competition to become an astronaut.  The men chosen were some of the best test pilots in the country and, while their skills were important in the selection process, it was also important that the men be happily married.  The wives of these men were put in a unique situation – they had to be supportive of their husbands and put up a brave front for the media. They had no idea what was in store for them – Life was given exclusive access to the wives and they became instant celebrities so they found out just how difficult it is to be in the public spotlight.

Lily Koppel tells the story of these women in her new book, The Astronaut Wives Club.  Beginning in 1961, she follows the lives of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo wives.  NASA expected their astronauts to be happily married and they expected the women to be fearless, strong, and supportive – their role was to provide a happy home and a unified front.  As the book opens, it focuses on the seven Mercury wives and it was easy to keep track of each of them, but as more and more wives were added, it became more difficult.  That was fine, though, because the book isn’t really about these women as individuals but rather about the values of the time and the roles they were expected to play.  They’re outdated by today’s standards for sure, but I still found them fascinating.  While the men were competing for the top spots, the women didn’t get much support from NASA, so they banded together and actually formed a club.

Intertwined with the story of these women is the historical stories of the day – Sputnik, Vietnam, Kennedy’s assassination, etc.  I remember most of the events and it was interesting to put them in perspective with the space race.  For the most part, I enjoyed this book but I did have one quibble.  At times the women whined about their husbands being absent and the dangers involved in their husbands’ jobs – quite often they said they wished their husbands were postmen or garbage men.  I don’t mean to discount the real danger they were in (several lost their lives) but it was hard to have a lot of sympathy for them when other men were being shipped off to Vietnam.

If you go into this book expecting to learn about these women as individuals, you’ll probably come out disappointed.  If you’re interested in a glimpse at a time period when women were expected to be strong for their men, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Orlagh Cassiday does a great job narrating the audio version of The Astronaut Wives Club.  It’s on 7 CDs and lasts approximately 8 hours.  There are photos included on the last CD.

Review copy provided by Hachette Books.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2013 5:55 am

    You made a great point about this book being about the manners of the time rather than about the women as individuals. My one complaint about it was that the individuality of the women was underplayed, that their only identity was in terms of their famous husbands. I thought that undermined any recovery of women’s history attempted at in the book. But your comment made me reconsider my perspective – it is a narrative about a certain time. Thank you.

  2. August 8, 2013 6:51 am

    Kathy, you read a lot of books that I never hear about anywhere else — thanks for sharing.

  3. August 8, 2013 8:03 am

    I remember all the space launches — and I’ve read quite a bit about the space program. I’ve had this on my list because it’s a look at what the ideal woman was supposed to be in the late 50s and early 60s: in the background, perfect, and supportive, ignoring their own wants and needs.

  4. August 8, 2013 8:22 am

    This one sounds intriguing.

  5. August 8, 2013 8:28 am

    I’ve got this on my audio wish list! Glad I read your review first because I was expecting to learn about the individual women.. but it still sounds like a good listen. I enjoyed her earlier book, The Red Leather Diary.

  6. August 8, 2013 11:41 am

    I really want to read this one. I am glad you mentioned the distinction between the time period and their individual stories because I’d absolutely read it for the time period. Love that time period.

  7. Literary Feline permalink
    August 8, 2013 11:42 am

    Thank you for the warning about what to expect and not expect with this book. I probably would go into it hoping to learn more about the wives themselves. It still sounds really interesting though!

  8. August 8, 2013 12:10 pm

    This is high on my list. Love the time period and the space program. I had a feeling it would be more about the women as a group than individuals.

  9. August 8, 2013 12:59 pm

    I SO want to read this book! Great review!

  10. August 8, 2013 1:12 pm

    This does sound good, even if the women are portrayed as a “group”, rather than as individuals. Excellent review, as usual!

  11. talesofwhimsy permalink
    August 8, 2013 1:43 pm

    Sounds interesting.
    Confession: It makes me think of I Dream of Jeannie. Remember how she was the wifey/genie of an astronaut in the early 60s? 🙂

  12. bookingmama permalink
    August 8, 2013 2:05 pm

    I can’t wait to listen to this one!!!! I didn’t live through these events and I just adore that time period.

  13. August 8, 2013 2:59 pm

    I’m not sure this is for me, but thank you for your review.

  14. Patty permalink
    August 8, 2013 3:01 pm

    I know this one is not for me…but I loved hearing about it from your point of view!

  15. August 8, 2013 3:19 pm

    This really sounds interesting. As does the Boys in the Boat and the one about the girls of atomic city. I think I have more want-to nonfiction than fiction on my list right now.

  16. August 8, 2013 3:44 pm

    Cool! I was wondering how this one would be on audio! 🙂

  17. August 8, 2013 10:09 pm

    I would definitely read it for the time period, too. Thanks for pointing that out, Kathy.

  18. Staci@LifeintheThumb permalink
    August 8, 2013 10:26 pm

    I’m curious to read it for the time period and to put the space race into perspective with the wives stories. Loved your thoughts on this one and yes, I agree with you about the wives whining about the dangers of space when you realize how many of our young men died in Vietnam.

  19. August 9, 2013 3:55 am

    Thanks for sharing this book. I will definitely have to check it out and I’m happy to know exactly what to expect and what not to expect.

  20. August 9, 2013 12:28 pm

    This sounds fascinating and a good book to listen too. I think many books come across better on audio for me and this is probably one of them.

  21. August 9, 2013 7:13 pm

    I’m pinning this to my audiobook board! Thanks for letting us know what to expect.

  22. August 9, 2013 10:55 pm

    Sounds like something that I would like. I do enjoy the time period. It is too bad that there isn’t a bit more detail on the women as individuals though. Thank you for your thoughts.

  23. August 10, 2013 12:08 am

    I got a taste of this when we watched The Right Stuff a few months ago. It actually featured the wives and their role more than I expected. Not sure if I’d want to read a book about the collective group instead of the individual women and their relationships with their husbands.

  24. August 11, 2013 4:35 pm

    I had heard about this book before (most of the reviewers agreed about not getting to know the individual women, which is too bad!), but I had no idea that the astronauts were actually selected in part based on their wives. How interesting 🙂

  25. August 15, 2013 9:33 pm

    This one doesn’t appeal to me very much. Not exactly sure why.

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