One name that comes up repeatedly in the shared cast of characters of these books is Wernher von Braun. The exhaustive Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War is a fascinating study of the almost larger-than-life figure by extremely capable writer and historian Michael J. Neufeld. It is also a highly readable history of Weimar-era Berlin, WWII, the Space Race and the development of NASA with a lot of science thrown in. Crucial to Neufeld's portrait is the question of how much the Saturn V rocket creator might have known, done or condoned about the Nazi platform and the use of concentration camp labor in the production of the V-2 missiles used on London and other cities.

Throughout the book Neufeld employs the conceit of a Faustian bargain to describe von Braun's relentless devotion to his adolescent dream of getting into space, which, combined with his true calling: the management of huge engineering projects, the building of large technological systems, led him to a 28-year-career in weaponry, first for Hitler's regime and later for the U.S. Whether Neufeld comes down one way or another on the question of von Braun's wartime culpability is for the reader to decide; however, he certainly offers an intriguing survey of von Braun's 1950s advocacy for space exploration, his efforts to keep his rocket team and documentation out of Soviet hands, and his dedication to the American space effort. Neufeld also manages to present a picture of a man of aristocratic charm, who nonetheless believed in dirty hands engineering in the pursuit of solutions.

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