100 Books for America: The Right Stuff

With 86 days until the election, let us continue looking at the 100 books every American should read. These write-ups will be short and not incredibly comprehensive looks at some books and novels that will help you become a better citizen. Check out all of the books that have been picked.

It’s been awhile since we talked about a fun book. Tom Wolf’s 1979 book recapping the Mercury Seven and the space race is a wild ride.

Wolf is a master storyteller, who brings the real life heroes of one of our country’s greatest triumph to full life. Using narrative nonfiction to near perfection, much like a previous entry in this list, you see these men – and to a smaller extent women – for all their glories and imperfections.

The book truly is a rollicking good time. Wolf had fun with it.

Each candidate was to deliver two stool specimens to the Lovelace laboratory in Dixie cups, and days were going by and Conrad had been unable to egest even one, and the staff kept getting after him about it. Finally he managed to produce a single bolus, a mean hard little ball no more than an inch in diameter and shot through with some kind of seeds, whole seeds, undigested. Then he remembered. The first night in Albuquerque he had gone to a Mexican restaurant and eaten a lot of jalapeño peppers. They were jalapeño seeds. Even in the turd world this was a pretty miserable-looking objet. So Conrad tied a red ribbon around the goddamned thing, with a bow and all, and put it in the Dixie cup and delivered it to the lab.

But the space race wasn’t all turds and giggles. It was serious business.

One thing that stood out to this reader born almost a decade after the last man walked on the moon, was how dire it was at the time.

We were losing. Big.

That comeback is lost in the narrative for a lot of Americans under 40.

The pride of that accomplishment shines through in so many moments, even if it’s just rubbing other military branches.

Combat had its own infinite series of tests, and one of the greatest sins was “chattering” or “jabbering” on the radio. The combat frequency was to be kept clear of all but strategically essential messages, and all unenlightening comments were regarded as evidence of funk, of the wrong stuff. A Navy pilot (in legend, at any rate) began shouting, “I’ve got a MiG at zero! A MiG at zero!”—meaning that it had maneuvered in behind him and was locked in on his tail. An irritated voice cut in and said, “Shut up and die like an aviator.” One had to be a Navy pilot to appreciate the final nuance. A good Navy pilot was a real aviator; in the Air Force they merely had pilots and not precisely the proper stuff.

Most of the books on this list are about the struggle of America as it moved toward its never ending goal of a more perfect union.

But “The Right Stuff” is one of those tales about why we can be so proud of how far we’ve come.


Previously, we talked about the Founding Fathers who opposed the Constitution. Up next, The Great American Novel.

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