Review of 'Starman'

Starman by Jamie Doran, and Ralph Bakshi

star_man.jpg “Starman” tells the true story of the first man in space, Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, the triumph of his accomplishment and the tragedy of his early death. Born the son of a farming couple in rural Soviet Union, Yuri soon showed an aptitude for science and a fascination with flight. Taken under the wing of “The Chief Designer”, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the demanding and dominating founder of the Soviet Union's space program under Khruschchev, Yuri was selected pretty much at the last minute to be the first man in space due to his positive attitude and technical brilliance…people simply liked him. This book details the first flight of only 1 hour and 48 minutes as well as a previously undisclosed near disaster during reentry. The incredible public outpouring of adulation that followed his landing completely caught Yuri by surprise and he was little prepared, carried on by the overwhelming tide of popularity. In the years to follow Yuri spent his time in engagement after engagement, a “poster child” for the Soviet idyll with all the trappings of celebrity that Yuri fell into: Alcohol and women. Despite this he never lost his love for spaceflight and despite rising in the ranks of the Soviet military he still sought to return to space by maintaining his skills. His life came to a tragic end in bad weather when the MiG-15UTI he was piloting along with a trainer slammed into the earth in a forest north-east of Moscow. He was only 34 years old.

A well written story of one of the most famous men ever to have lived. Gagarin is portrayed in a favourable though realistic light with his charm but his weakness when it came to alcohol (and women, though this aspect of his character is treated here with a very light touch). Here we see he was very much a pawn in the politics of the time despite his affable nature.

“Starman” is a real page turner with a central section of archival pictures, the authors have really done their work with a overwhelming feeling of great confidence in the subject despite it's relatively short length. They chose to concentrate here on the essential details to prove the central thesis of Yuri's humanity, choosing very much to concentrate on the positive and skirting, though, to be fair, at least mentioning, the more negative aspects. Ultimately this is a story of tragedy.

There are a few disclosures in “Starman” about the flight and Yuri's life that never made it into Yuri's official biographies that really enforce the idea that he was a charming, lovable man, not without faults but this makes him even more human as he is caught up in forces beyond his control. It would have been nice for him to have made it into space again but, sadly, this was never to be and we lost a great man, not just in what he accomplished but in character.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-11-24

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 1998

ISBN: 9781408815540