Title: Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin
Author: Jamie Doran & Piers Bizony
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Publisher: Walker & Co.
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Space
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In this 10th anniversary rerelease of the biography of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly in space, authors Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony examine the man behind the myth and use new sources in order to construct an entirely unique portrait of the infamous cosmonaut.
Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin is an entirely new look at a man that has become a myth. Long portrayed as a perfect cosmonaut, communist, husband, and father, this book delves into Gagarin’s personal life through interviews with those who knew him best.
Doran and Bizony show the reader a troubled man under enormous pressure to succeed. At the beginning, Gagarin was the star, his youthful, handsome face perfect for Russia’s space program. But after his flight, his fame began to wear on him. Always traveling, his relationship with his wife became strained. Additionally, he began to see the chinks in the communist armor and questioned his government. Gagarin’s fall from grace happened slowly, but when his life came to an abrupt end, it’s clear that the Soviet government was inwardly relieved, unsure of what to do with the hero that had since become a burden.
The authors also examine the technical aspects of the Russian space program. How behind were the Americans? What did the Russians do right, and what did they do wrong? Because the program operated in total secrecy, even those close to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Star City were unaware of some of the catastrophic failures that occurred. Doran and Bizony examine documents for clues as to these issues, including troubles with Gagarin’s landing after his first flight, hinted at in his government-sanctioned autobiography.
The book concludes with the plane crash that killed Gagarin and examines some of the conspiracy theories surrounding his mysterious death. Was he killed by his own government, or was his death truly just a horrible accident? Doran and Bizony examine all the possibilities, taking into account eyewitness reports and official documents, before settling on a conclusion.
Starman is a fascinating look at a tragic life cut too short. This is a must-read for any fans of space history or biographies, but also would be interesting for those curious about the mechanics of the Soviet Union. The authors did an excellent job finding unique source material, and it made for an intriguing read.