The Right Stuff

by Tom Wolfe

Posted Feb 14, 2021

I've seen the movie a few times and had a general sense that I wanted to read this book as it was recommended in a few places. Then Chuck Yeager died and William Zinsser recommended Wolfe and The Right Stuff specifically in On Writing Well and I moved it up my list.

It's a great story about what it means to be a hero and to represent a country, covering the beginning of the space age in the face of the Cold War. It filled in a lot of gaps and history with some of the same people from Rocket Men, which is about Apollo 8.

There are lots of moments that prove Zinsser's point that Wolfe is a master of nonfiction storytelling. One thing that really stood out to me – especially after thinking that Trump ruined it – was his use of the exclamation point. The key is that he uses it throughout entire paragraphs to control the pace and get you really into someone's head. It's masterful.

On the one hand, they hated the process. It meant talking to reporters and other fruit flies who always hovered, eager for the juice … and invariably got the facts screwed up … But that wasn’t really the problem, was it! The real problem was that reporters violated the invisible walls of the fraternity. They blurted out questions and spoke boorish words about … all the unspoken things!—about fear and bravery (they would say the words!) and how you felt at such-and-such a moment! It was obscene!

I recommend both the book and the movie.