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Author Topic:   Von Braun (Michael Neufeld)
cspg
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posted 05-25-2007 01:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Picked up the following (which is not a forthcoming NASA publication) while reading NASA's History Office latest newsletter and I have included product info and links.
Neufeld's book, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), will be published in September, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. It will be about 640 pages long and represents the culmination of 20 years of research.
Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War
by Michael J. Neufeld
The first authoritative biography of Wernher von Braun, chief rocket engineer of the Third Reich — creator of the infamous V-2 rocket — who became one of the fathers of the U.S. space program. In this meticulously researched and vividly written life, Michael J. Neufeld gives us a man of profound moral complexities, glorified as a visionary and vilified as a war criminal, a man whose brilliance and charisma were coupled with an enormous and, some would say, blinding ambition.

As one of the leading developers of rocket technology for the German army, von Braun yielded to pressure to join the Nazi Party in 1937 and reluctantly became an SS officer in 1940. During the war, he supervised work on the V-2s, which were assembled by starving slave laborers in a secret underground plant and then fired against London and Antwerp. Thousands of prisoners died — a fact he well knew and kept silent about for as long as possible.

When the Allies overran Germany, von Braun and his team surrendered to the Americans. The U.S. Army immediately recognized his skills and brought him and his colleagues to America to work on the development of guided missiles, in a covert operation that became known as Project Paperclip. He helped launch the first American satellite in 1958 and headed NASA’s launch-vehicle development for the Apollo Moon landing.

Handsome and likable, von Braun dedicated himself to selling the American public on interplanetary travel and became a household name in the 1950s, appearing on Disney TV shows and writing for popular magazines. But he never fully escaped his past, and in later years he faced increasing questions as his wartime actions slowly came to light.

Based on new sources, Von Braun is a brilliantly nuanced portrait of a man caught between morality and progress, between his dreams of the heavens and the earthbound realities of his life.

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 25, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0307262928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262929

Dwayne Day
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posted 05-31-2007 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is going to be a good one. Neufeld is a top-notch scholar.

eurospace
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posted 06-01-2007 06:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Michael Neufeld has written an earlier book about Peenemünde over a decade ago ("The Rocket and the Reich"), and this book quickly became the standard reference book on the topic. Neufeld knows the subject to the smallest details, and addresses the questions with the accuracy, fairness and sound judgment of a solid historian. His book was not oral history, not a partisan book of whatever direction, it was pure solid science of history.

I expect his new book to be of the same sound quality, and to become it "the" book on von Braun that should be number one of all reading lists. I am very much looking forward to its publication.

collocation
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posted 09-16-2007 03:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collocation   Click Here to Email collocation     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A review in the Washington Post:
Neufeld writes with economy and dispatch, and the narrative moves quickly, particularly in the early going. Although von Braun's surviving German colleagues refused to grant interviews, Neufeld's mastery of available German material and memoirs, coupled with the records of post-World War II debriefings and the harrowing recollections of former French prisoners-of-war at the Nordhausen V-2 plant, give von Braun's German period a vivid immediacy.

The book, however, frequently glosses over the engineering challenges faced by early rocketeers and the techniques and hardware developed by von Braun and others to resolve them. Aficionados will immediately notice this shortcoming, and even the uninitiated will occasionally wonder how seemingly intractable problems are suddenly overcome 10 pages later. Also missing are details about von Braun's personal life. The family has never granted interviews, and readers will be curious about his 1947 marriage, almost sight unseen, to his 18-year-old first cousin and his born-again conversion to evangelical Protestantism around the same time.

The American half of von Braun's life will be more familiar to U.S. readers. Neufeld focuses considerable attention on von Braun's career as the U.S. space program's designated visionary, contrasting his public triumphs with continued but sporadic embarrassments about his Nazi past.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-23-2007 11:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A few more reviews out today:

Los Angeles Times: 'Von Braun' by Michael J. Neufeld

Neufeld does not portray Von Braun as evil but, rather, as a man like Goethe's Faust, who "uses his infernal powers to build great engineering works for what he believes to be the betterment of mankind." Faust mistreats his workers and inadvertently kills people in his way, but he feels no guilt, because "he cannot accept personal responsibility."
Boston Globe: Rocket man
Neufeld likens von Braun to a Faustian figure - not Christopher Marlowe's, who sold his soul to the devil for the possession of earthly powers, but Goethe's Faust, who for the sake of grand engineering accomplishments made himself complicit in the devil's work. He gives von Braun well-merited due, pointing to the managerial talents, including remarkable charm, drive, intellect, and energy, that he brought to the successive projects of long-range rocketry, both in Germany and the United States. He was indispensable to the V-2 effort and a brilliantly effective leader at Huntsville.

KC Stoever
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posted 10-18-2007 10:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Terrific book review (by Tom Mallon, natch) in the October 22 New Yorker of Michael J. Neufeld's Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. (Knopf; $35). Mallon writes:
Neufeld... acknowledges that "hardly anyone under age forty" knows his subject's name, even though America's moon shots owed a large measure of their success to him. Wernher von Braun (1912-77) had a career that was itself a kind of two-stage rocket, his scientific dreams boosted toward their late American fulfillment by his youthful service to the military apparatus of Nazi Germany. Disgusted and forbearing by turns, Neufeld, the chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers this patient new biography as a corrective to the scientific and moral shakiness of the more admiring writers who have come before him. Using archival information that they neglected, he has nonetheless faced the same "inaccessibility of [von Braun's] widow, his children, and his American relatives," who seem to regard all biographical study of von Braun as a kind of posthumous deportation hearing, one that always carries the possibility of his being ejected from the American Cold War pantheon and repatriated to the ruins of the Third Reich.
Can't wait to read it.

dom
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posted 10-27-2007 01:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Michael Neufeld talks about his Von Braun book with NPR.

art540
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posted 11-11-2007 08:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Any reviews or opinions of this book?

dom
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posted 11-11-2007 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although Neufeld's book will certainly be seen as the definitive "facts" book on Von Braun it seems too sterile.

The reader (or is it just me?) realises that the author dislikes his subject but his attempts to be academic about it all only manage to "suck the life" out of Von Braun's personality.

Although I know Neufeld is trying to get away from some of the uncritical biographies of the past - mainly written by pro-Von Braun friends - he hasn't managed to provide any "character" (good or bad) to his subject.

Put it this way, I'm glad I have the book in my collection for the details but I might just turn (with a critical eye of course!) to some of the earlier biographies to get a sense of Von Braun the man.

eurospace
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posted 11-11-2007 01:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If your position is one of an admirer, than of course any fact-based and balanced description of von Braun must appear "sterile." Which is amazing considering that other than the hagiographies by "von Braun's fans" there are also outright "hate books."

I have only just started reading the book, but I'm already impressed by the fair approach to the personality. Neufeld is very detail oriented and shares even minor events from the childhood years. He is not taking the easy approach of either liking or disliking him, he presents the facts, shares interesting quotes, and comes to a balanced judgment.

His presentation of the political situation in Germany during the time von Braun grew up is not only very informed, it sometimes grants von Braun's family and background in the reactionary world of the 20s more understanding than I - as a German - would normally concede those folks.

Remember that America created its democratic state in 1776, that the French revolution took place in 1789, and in the early 20th century this class of both economically as politically backward regions of Germany were still cultivating a lifestyle and social situations that might have been appropriate in the 13th century when they colonized the pagan East, but not 700 years later.

I am not an English native speaker, so reading English requires an extra effort, and I find Neufeld's writing engaging, easy to understand and interesting. I regret having to put it aside for the working week and to wait until the next weekend to go further. Neufeld adds scientific class to history writing in an area that has been spoilt by propaganda and biased presentations far too long.

FFrench
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posted 11-13-2007 12:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for that informative and insightful review, Jürgen.

dom
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posted 11-14-2007 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just for the record let me add that I also believe the von Braun book to be a masterwork of even-handed research.

I recently did some research connected to von Braun and used some of the same primary documents Neufeld studied and I can say that the author is spot-on in his fair interpretation of these archives.

My main disappointment with the finished book is that at a time as Neufeld himself admits in his introduction when only people of a certain generation are familiar with Von Braun because he is almost forgotten to younger generations who see the Space Age as irrelevant, the book is too dense with these "facts" to bring out the excitement and adventure that was the "race for space."

I think the book would have been better served if it had been split in two separate volumes with more "human elements" thrown in there between the facts.

But as many members of von Braun's close family/friends refuse to talk to both Neufeld personally and other writers in general this type of study may never happen.

So just to recap, I'm not knocking the book just stating my own disappointment that it wasn't the book I wanted to read. But that probably isn't Neufeld's fault anyway!

cspg
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posted 11-15-2007 12:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dom:
But as many members of Von Braun's close family/friends refuse to talk to both Neufeld personally and other writers in general this type of study may never happen...

How come? Do they give specific reasons as to why they don't want to talk about him? Strange.

dom
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posted 11-15-2007 01:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know why this it is happening but as Neufeld explains in his preface:
A second set of problems is the inaccessibility of his widow, his children, and his American relatives, who have been unwilling to be interviewed even by his friendly biographers. As the author of "The Rocket and the Reich," a critical history of von Braun's German army rocket program, I had no chance to talk to them. Nor, after the publication of that book, would his former German colleagues speak to me any longer...
Neufeld also hints darkly that some sensitive personal files were "missing" from the Von Braun archive at Huntsville when he looked for them!

art540
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posted 11-15-2007 02:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did Neufeld include anything on Walter Dornberger?

dom
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posted 11-16-2007 02:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's not much detailed information about Dornberger in this book.

What's there is generally in connection with Peenemunde.

art540
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posted 11-16-2007 03:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you. Since Dornberger was a military participant on the V-2 and worked in the U.S. I thought that Nuefeld might mention him umfavorably but he stayed on topic.

FFrench
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posted 11-19-2007 10:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I read this review in yesterday's New York Times, and found it an interesting read.
Von Braun has been the subject of at least nine previous English-language biographies. But Neufeld's version, exhaustively researched in German and American archives and written in clear, fast-paced prose, offers the most complete, fully documented and critical account that the imperfect documentary record is likely to yield. Neufeld acclaims him "the most influential rocket engineer and spaceflight advocate of the 20th century." This book amply supports that judgment.

Though most previous biographies have been hagiographic celebrations, some have noted his association with if not his commission of war crimes in Hitler's Germany. Neufeld also sees him as a modern-day Faust, whose power came from a bargain with the devil. The devil in Neufeld's analogy is Nazi Germany in general and Hitler in particular, from whom von Braun personally received the cherished title of "Professor." Neufeld scours the historical record for evidence of von Braun's crimes, rehearsing his membership in the SS, his development of deadly weapons and, most important, his participation in the notorious slave labor program that built his V-2s at a horrible human cost.

art540
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posted 11-20-2007 12:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for all the input, guys. I now have my copy to read.

DChudwin
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posted 02-03-2008 06:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have finally finished Michael Neufeld's monumental biography of Wernher von Braun and I am very impressed with his effort.

Neufeld, who understands German, was able to research records from von Braun's early life in pre-war Germany and presents a fascinating picture of a young man obssessed with space growing up in an aristocratic East Prussian family.

Neufeld approaches the issue of von Braun's association with the Nazis in a thorough but fair manner (although it is clear Neufeld has a negative view of von Braun's collaboration). While I knew von Braun was pressured into joining the Nazi party, I did not know that he personally briefed Hitler on several occasions, and that it was Hitler himself who conferred the honorific title of "Professor" on von Braun. I also was not aware that von Braun was an SS officer and wore the SS officer's uniform to his advantage when trying to surrender his team to the advancing Americans.

Neufeld also investigates the relationship between von Braun and the concentration camp workers, mainly from France, who were used to construct the V-2 rockets designed by von Braun and his team. von Braun denied ever seeing mistreatment of prisoners after visiting on a couple of occasions. However, Neufeld makes a strong argument that von Braun was more aware of the situation of the slave laborers than he later admitted.

From an early age, von Braun dreamed of space and rockets and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal. von Braun is portrayed as the ultimate opportunist.

The book is extensively documented and goes into great detail, especially about von Braun's upbringing, education, and early efforts in Germany to build rockets. His stay in America is less detailed.

I personally met von Braun only on one occasion-- at the press conference of the NASA center directors before the Apollo 11 launch in July 1969. This was the time when von Braun compared the Apollo 11 launch to the era in which animals left the sea to live on the land. At the time, I thought this was hyperbole, but after reading Neufeld's book I now understand that Apollo 11 was the culmination of all of von Braun's hopes and dreams.

Americans tend to simplify things into black and white. However, this book paints a fascinating picture of a man who was both great and also flawed. He was a fine engineer, but even more so a talented organizer with drive and charisma. However, he was ethically challenged-- the end does not justify the means, because wrong means corrupt the end.

von Braun was passionately devoted to our future in space, yet his life serves as a warning that space enthusiasts need to consider the price in lives that space exploration continues to take.

I highly recommend this book. It is not always an easy read, but it is the definitive biogaphy of a man so important to the onset of the Space Age.

MCroft04
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posted 02-03-2008 09:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You've convinced me to buy and read the book. Thanks!

dss65
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posted 02-24-2008 09:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dss65   Click Here to Email dss65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I finished reading this thought-provoking book well over a month ago. I wanted to add some thoughts to this string, but I felt that I needed to let everything settle in my mind for a while before trying to get my opinions down, especially since this whole subject area so clearly provokes such intense emotions from so many people. (Understandably so.)

I guess it has all boiled down to me simply wanting to say that the many thoughtful posts on this thread should adequately prepare the reader for what to expect in this coverage of an immensely interesting and controversial man. Such items in my collection as the "Tomorrowland" DVD series, "The Real Space Cowboys", and von Braun's book "Project Mars: A Technical Tale" will now always elicit a more complex internal response from me in the future than they have in the past.

Yet, if Neufeld's intention was to totally demonize his subject in all of our minds (and at times it seemed that way), he was less than totally successful in my case. I can understand how others would feel otherwise. I think this is an important book in many ways, and I would encourage those who feel inclined to read it to do so. I'm glad I did.

eurospace
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posted 04-04-2008 09:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Neufeld's book will be published as a paperback in mid-November by Random House. That should also make it accessible for those with a limited budget.

Michael J. Neufeld was also the editor for the English version of one of the memoirs of a survivor of the Mittelbau Dora concentration camp, Yves Béon.

Planet Dora: A Memoir of the Holocaust and the Birth of the Space Age

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Westview Press (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813334926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813334929
The book, originally published in French, is one of the most informative reports about the gruelsome life on the construction site of the A-4 or V-2.

FFrench
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posted 04-25-2008 09:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just saw this book for sale in an airport gift store. Generally a sign that a book is doing pretty well, as they tend to limit their stock to top sellers.

FFrench
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posted 10-20-2008 08:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"Von Braun" was named as the winner of the 2007 Emme Award for Astronautical Literature, awarded by the American Astronautical Society — quite a prestigious honor.

eurospace
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posted 06-28-2009 05:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Neufeld's book has now been published in a German version under the title of "Wernher von Braun: Visionär der Raumfahrt, Ingenieur des Krieges." That is the exact translation of the original title.

The publisher is a renowned conservative publishing house at Berlin, Siedler. ISBN no. is 978-3-88680-912-7.

SpaceAholic
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posted 12-19-2020 07:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A subsequent more recent interview with Neufeld.
In 2017, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution David Skorton gave him the Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar Award, the highest research award of the Institution. Dr. Neufeld generously shared his thoughts on the significance of the V-2, Wernher von Braun, and the Nazis’ reliance on forced labor to build rockets.

My interview with him was conducted via email in August 2019.

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