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Lies, spies, movies, sex-magic and socialism in America: the secret history of the first rocket in space.
Escape From Earth is the untold story of the engineers, dreamers and rebels who started the American space programme. In particular, it is the story of Frank Malina, founder of what became Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the scientist who cracked the, as he called it, problem of escape from the Earth by rocket.
It's a wild ride. Jack Parsons, Malina's chemistry-expert research partner, was a bed-hopping occultist with delusions of grandeur. We get all the horrible details: drug parties and sex magic, cameos by Aleister Crowley and L Ron Hubbard, and an ill-fated attempt to start a mail-order religion.
Armed with hitherto unpublished letters, journals, and documents from the Malina family archives, Fraser MacDonald reveals what we didn't know. Jack Parsons betrayed Frank Malina to the FBI, cooperating fully in their investigation of Malina for un-American activities. The Jet Propulsion Lab's second director secretly denounced Frank as a Communist. Frank's research group had close ties to the spy network of the infamous Rosenbergs - the only Americans executed during the Red Scare. This is a story of soaring ideals entangled in the most human of complications: infidelity and divorce, betrayal and treason.
About the Author
Fraser MacDonald is a lecturer in Human Geography at Edinburgh University where he teaches historical geography and the history of science. He has a regular byline at The Guardian and has also written for Aeon Magazine, The Herald, The Age, The Australian, the LRB Books blog, amongst others publications.
Excellent ... has raised a crucially influential American pioneer rocketeer from obscurity to the recognition he deserves...MacDonald's access to Malina's family archives and freedom of information FBI files adds intimate details to this scholarly and colourful work -- Patrick Skene Catling * Spectator *
Meticulously researched yet immensely readable ... I have never before seen anyone express witch such clarity the contradiction at the heart of the space age ... It is refreshing to read an account of these events that is so nuanced, seamlessly melding the personal and the scientific. This expert history offers insights into the early space age with dazzlingly beautiful writing and a keen eye for irony * Times Higher Education *
Absorbing and stimulating ... a superb book which sheds new light on the conflicts of the mid-20th century * Scotsman *
A compelling saga of secrecy, activism, betrayal ... superb, illuminating * Herald *
A tangled, fascinating story that is a mixture of science, politics and soap opera ... an extraordinary, important yet neglected slice of space history * Literary Review *
Fascinating ... a superb book * Yorkshire Post *
Excellent ... MacDonald tells this whole grubby story superbly * Strong Words *
Frank Malina, one of the most talented pioneers of American rocket science, flirted with communism and pacifism, and then gave it all up-rocketry included-to become a painter. History has in consequence all but erased his memory-except that now, thanks to Fraser MacDonald's fascination with his story and a dogged determination to write this riveting and important book, his legacy has been revived, and will surely long endure. * Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World *
Exquisitely researched, thoughtfully written, Escape from Earth is a fascinating exploration of an endlessly intriguing and remarkable subject. Fraser MacDonald has not only brought to life Frank Malina, he has captured perfectly the political and scientific contradictions of the dawn of the Space Age. * Henry Hemming, author of The Ingenious Mr Pyke and Agents of Influence *
A fascinating history of America's ascent into space that literally rewrites our understanding of the rocket age; a story that mixes sex, Nazis, Communists, the FBI, and rockets and along the way reminds us how complicated and untidy even celebrated history can be. Escape from Earth is an instant addition to the rocketry canon, right there with Operation Paperclip and Hidden Figures. * Garrett Graff, bestselling author of Raven Rock *
Escape from Earth is a fascinating story about the arms race, the space race and the cold war. Fraser MacDonald has restored to their rightful place in history a cast of characters airbrushed out of the story because of their political convictions. This book has the rare quality of being both a well-told tale and throughly researched. * McKenzie Wark, author of The Beach Beneath the Street *