Dear Neil Armstrong – Letters to the First Man from All Mankind by James R. Hansen, Purdue University Press; October 2019; Hardback; 400 pages, $34.99.

This is a wonderful book, documenting the over-whelming amount of cards and letters received by Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon in July 1969.

Within 7 chapters, Hansen has selectively sampled and edited the world’s outpouring of praise, but also the type of requests Armstrong received, be it for photographs or his autograph, to invites to talk to school classes with the proviso he bring some equipment. One letter asked for a pair of his old glasses, regardless of their condition, to be placed in the Famous People’s Eye Glasses Museum.

“In choosing which messages to include, I have done my best to put myself in the frame of mind of Neil Armstrong and the kind of goodwill messages that would likely have impressed him the most in July 1969 as well as today,” the author writes in the book’s preface.

There’s a thoughtful foreword by astronaut Al Worden (who died just a few days ago), noting that “without a doubt the ability to keep a cool head is a preeminent characteristic of great test pilots…Neil Armstrong certainly demonstrated that as witnessed by the way he both saved Gemini 8 and landed the lunar module on July 20, 1969.”

Hansen points out that there isn’t an exact count of the number of letters, telegrams and cards Armstrong received from all over the globe. In one chapter, the author underscores the communiqués from people living in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc – though most Soviets were unaware of their own Moon mission failures to plant footprints of cosmonauts on the lunar landscape, yet unabashedly praised Armstrong for the heroic accomplishment.

I personally found the chapter “Reluctantly Famous” quite revealing. “Neil hated the iconography that came to surround and define him,” Hansen writes. “He did his best to correct and deflect the epic and monumental elements that society and culture built into his legacy, which he knew greatly distorted who he actually was…”

The volume includes an appendix “Secretaries, Assistants, and Administrative Aides for Neil Armstrong, 1969-2012” and a notes section that adds clarity to that puzzling “one small step for “a” man” historic declaration from humankind’s first moonwalker.

An expert in aerospace history and the history of science and technology, Hansen has published numerous books, including the seminal First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong and a book that spent three weeks as a New York Times Best Seller in 2005 and 2018 and garnered a number of major book awards.

Once again, the reader of this book will find a very satisfying, unique appreciation of not only Armstrong, but also the impact that the momentous first Moon landing had on the world community of onlookers.

For more information on this book, go to:

Also, take a look at this informative author interview from CBS News This Morning at:

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