Book Review: Magnificent Desolation, by Buzz Aldrin

by Anne Minard on July 19, 2009

Magnificent Desolation, the new autobiography by Buzz Aldrin

Magnificent Desolation, the new autobiography by Buzz Aldrin

I very much enjoyed chatting with Buzz Aldrin a couple of weeks ago, for some stories leading up to the 40th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I found him honest, personable and generous with his time.

But when his publicist offered to send a copy of his new book, “Magnificent Desolation,” I didn’t set my expectations too high. I didn’t know what to make of an autobiography by a retired Air Force pilot and astronaut. Doesn’t that history put the “Rocket Hero” pretty squarely in the category of techie or a jock — a non-writer type?

Well, color me impressed. The book arrived late last week, and I turned the last page this morning — looking for more to read!

Courtsey of Buzz Aldrin

Courtsey of Buzz Aldrin

Granted, Aldrin got help when he teamed up with writer Ken Abraham. But no writer can spin a book like “Magnificent Desolation” without an incredible story, and Aldrin is a master of that.

The book opens with a few chapters on the Apollo program that made him famous. Even though I’ve dabbled in some research the past few weeks — including catching up on the movie “In the Shadow of the Moon” and leafing through some books — I learned new details both whimsical and serious.

Who knew, for example, that American astronauts traditionally eat steak and eggs prior to launch? Or that Aldrin is such a font of deep thoughts, which has apparently been true for a long time:

“From space there were no observable borders between nations, no observable reasons for the wars we were leaving behind,” he remembers musing as the Earth got smaller in Apollo 11’s windows.

“Magnificent Desolation” is about as revealing as you can get in personal realms. Aldrin engages in a lengthy discussion of his decade of deep depression and alcoholism following the Apollo years, from which he eventually escaped. At his rock bottom, Aldrin had lost faith in himself, had no vision for his purpose in life, and was failing at his job — as a salesman of Cadillacs.

During our interview, Aldrin said he turned his life around by deciding that he could share his experiences for a greater good.

“Do you continue to descend into an abyss? Or do you try to make a difference with what you know best?” he remembers thinking.

These days, Aldrin lives a life fitting for a hero. He hobnobs with greats in every field, from journalists and athletes to international leaders, scientists and movie stars. He and his wife, Lois, have traveled the world for scuba diving excursions, ski trips and unflagging efforts to promote his primary passion (besides Lois): a return to the collective national motivation that helped fuel the lunar landings. He desperately wants to see America lead the charge toward space exploration — to Mars and/or a moon of Mars, and beyond.

Aldrin admits he’s been criticized in the past, even by some of his astronaut peers, for garnering so much publicity as the second man (after Neil Armstrong) to set foot on the moon.

“The truth was, no other astronaut, active or inactive, was out in the public trying to raise awareness about America’s dying space program. None of them,” he writes. He points out that he is not promoting himself: “I did not want ‘a giant leap for mankind’ to be nothing more than a phrase from the past.”

Besides pushing for a new era of space exploration, the book is also a testament to the benefits of citizen space travel, which Aldrin avidly promotes through his outreach efforts, including his non-profit Sharespace Foundation. Among them: “The United States will capture the lion’s share of the global satellite market,” and “NASA’s planetary probes will become far more affordable.”

Aldrin has used traditional channels to advance his ideas, addressing international audiences of all stripes and testifying before Congress. But the really fun stuff comes when he reaches out to younger audiences. He seems to stop at nothing to reach out to the next generations, to ensure that his space exploration dreams will stay alive.

“I look forward to these things happening during my lifetime,” he writes, “but if they don’t, please keep this dream alive; please keep going; Mars is waiting for your footsteps.”

This review is cross-posted at the writer’s website, anneminard.com.

Fun Buzz Aldrin links:

Buzz Aldrin’s Web site

Training Buzz Lightyear for a NASA mission (YouTube video)

Comical interview with Ali G. (YouTube video)

“Rocket Experience” rap with Snoop Dogg

Other Universe Today Apollo 11 40th anniversary stories:

How to Handle Moon Rocks and Lunar Bugs: A Personal History of Apollo’s Lunar Receiving Lab

Q & A with Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins

LRO Images Apollo Landing Sites (w00t!)

NASA Laments Missing Apollo 11 Film, Makes Do With What’s Left

And finally, the treasure trove: Apollo 11 Anniversary Link-O-Rama

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