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Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

February 2, 2018

Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and John Haise start on what they hope will be a successful moon landing—Apollo 13. As a NASA astronaut, Lovell’s dream has always been to go to the moon, and Apollo 13 is his first chance to do this. Whatever happens on the mission, he is determined to get to the moon, and more importantly, get home to see his family again. He’s at least going to space today.

When Lovell, Swigert and Haise begin their flight, the mission is going as expected with no problems as yet. But fifty-five hours after take-off, at 9:07pm on April 15, 1970, oxygen tank two on Odyssey ruptures, flooding oxygen into space, diverting their path and making a landing on the moon impossible—if they don’t want to become permanent residents. This forces them to make a challenging series of maneuvers in order to get back to Earth safely. This book covers their journey through space, with all hope of reaching the moon lost. Their only goal becomes retuning home.

I loved how Lovell took an event that actually happened in his life and made it suspenseful, like no other author that I’ve read has. When you read this memoir, you get the impression that he wrote this as a work of fiction, but these were real events that he spun with a strong narrative. Lovell also described the emotions of people back home, as if he crafted them himself. In reality, he probably interviewed them before writing the book, especially his family. Lovell described the thoughts of his wife back home perfectly when Aquarius’ oxygen tank explodes. Since most memoirs only describe the writer’s experience, this is a unique and interesting memoirist’s style. Overall, Lovell crafted an effective narrative using both his own experience, and the experiences of others, with an overarching story connecting them.

Lovell also effectively includes background information in the plot by taking readers away from events in the book and giving some technical information, because some events in the book are hard to understand without prior scientific knowledge. He also explains all the previous Apollo flights in the beginning, and explains the logistics of the mission and the modules themselves. Speaking of the modules, there is both a diagram of them and a timeline of the mission in the front cover of the book: helpful for the reader’s clarification.

The theme here is perseverance, because Lovell, Swigert, and Haise never give up. They don’t just lie down and accept their fate; they keep trying to perform every tiny action it takes to get back to Earth and survive the journey. I know firsthand how hard it is to include a strong theme in a memoir, and this book definitely succeeds.

If you decide to read this book, which I strongly recommend that you do, prepare yourself for an exciting true story, where you know that at least the author survives. This takes a little bit of sting out of it, but it doesn’t affect the suspense. There is also a movie, which I have not seen, but I know that it’s well-reviewed. I rate this a ten out of ten, and recommend it to anyone who is comfortable with relatively dense books. Anyone can read this. You don’t even have to understand the science behind it.

Ian

Houghton-Mifflin Co., 378 pages


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