Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism.
Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants.
Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe.
In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents.
"The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing--willing?--delighted!--to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero." Wolfe's roots in New Journalism were intertwined with the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote had pioneered with In Cold Blood.
As Capote did, Wolfe tells his story from a limited omniscient perspective, dropping into the lives of his "characters" as each in turn becomes a major player in the space program.
After an opening chapter on the terror of being a test pilot's wife, the story cuts back to the late 1940s, when Americans were first attempting to break the sound barrier.
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