Have you ever picked up what looked to be a fascinating book on a subject of interest only to be completely frustrated by what it turns out to be?
I am currently reading (or more accurately, sloughing through) Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds In The Third Great Age Of Discovery
which I assumed was a history of the Voyager space program, a topic of considerable interest. But I'm 100 pages in and so far, maybe 20 of those pages have actually been about the Voyager spacecraft and/or the Jet Propulsion Lab which designed and launched them. The rest has been a tedious, uninteresting "history of exploration". It's central thesis - that the history of exploration can be neatly divided into three "Great Ages" - is an exercise in reductionism with, from my perspective, little basis in reality. And it's not that I don't generally find historical accounts of great explorers and expeditions fascinating. On the contrary, I recently read this book
about Magellan's voyage and found it riveting. But Stephen J. Pyne's version of history reads like the catalog of ships from The Iliad
. And his comparisons - like, for example, that the three-stage rockets which boosted Voyager into orbit are like the different stages of outfitting ocean vessels - read like a bad high school essay. And his insistence on couching every technical detail with some kind of political relevance (not that I deny the importance of the Cold War to spaceflight, mind you) is exceedingly irritating.
I can't tell if Pyne actually believes he's making worthwhile observations or was just getting paid by the page. When he does actually discuss the details which lead up to the conception and execution of this bold space mission, it's well-written and exactly the kind of history I was looking for (and thought I would be getting.) But holy shit, GET TO THE POINT ALREADY!
I really haven't decided yet if I'm gonna finish this thing. There's gotta be better books on the subject, right? (Anyone know of any, perchance? Because history of science and spaceflight are truly some of my favorite subjects.) But the real question is, why the misdirection?