Picks and Pans Review: The Right Stuff

updated 10/08/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/08/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Tom Wolfe

"The world was divided into those who had it and those who did not. This quality, this it, was never named, however, nor was it talked about in any way." Wolfe, who gave readers "radical chic" and "the me decade," is not afraid to name it "the right stuff." That attribute—roughly, poise under fire—becomes the focal point for assessing the original astronauts, and The Right Stuff is an exhilarating flight into fear, love, beauty and fiery death. Pete Conrad, Wally Schirra, John Glenn and the others—plus 1940s test pilot Chuck Yeager, who has more of the right stuff than anyone—are celebrated with lively reverence. Even if Alan Shepard agonizes about his full bladder while waiting to blast off or the moralizing Glenn lectures his comrades on "keeping their pants zipped," they are still heroic and somehow magnificent. So is this book. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12.95)

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