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Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins, with a foreword by Charles A. Lindbergh

If you run across a copy of Carrying the Fire, buy it.  Many of my friends have read and thoroughly enjoyed it, some of them even passing them on to their spouses who were also pleased.  I feel so strongly about its appeal that I could leave my recommendation with only these statements.  

You will, however, inevitably ask, "But what is it about?"

Carrying the Fire is the true story of Apollo 11 as told by the one astronaut on the mission that did not step on the moon.  Michael Collins starts the story with his days as a military test pilot in the early 1960s. He then applies to become an astronaut and quickly reveals the odd and funny road to joining NASA.

In one of my favorite moments in the book, Collins and other would-be astronauts are taken to a morgue for reasons strange and unknown even to the author. They witness the "dissection" of an old woman - a victim of peritonitis - and Collins realizes that he has no idea whether or not he should even become an astronaut.  Collins writes, 

Was this supposed to make us at home with death on earth, in case we had to cope with death in space?  Or were we really supposed to learn something here, from the awful obscene jumbled pile of poor old lady parts in front of us?  Peritonitis is no way to go, baby, that's all I learned.

Rejected after his first application, he was finally selected with the third group of astronauts in 1963.  With this he switches to the life of a newby astronaut. His witty and honest look at life continues through training. Studying geology in the Grand Canyon, he admits that rock throwing contests are more fun than analyzing sandstone.

Everything changes when he's selected as the pilot of his first spaceflight, Gemini 10.  No longer a rookie astronaut, he conducts a spacewalk and shares a space altitude record with his mission commander, fellow astronaut John Young.

Two years later, thanks to an unforeseen back surgery that bumped him off Apollo 8, NASA's gruff chief astronaut assigned Collins to Apollo 11. He didn't get to land on the moon but he was closer than anyone else except Armstrong and Aldrin.

Carrying the Fire is unique not only for its endless humor but for Michael Collins' casual observations of everyday events as well as earth-shattering historic occasions.  Recalling the hectic days before his first spaceflight on Gemini 10, Collins tries to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Sunday was a day for relaxation with Pat and the kids, a day for balancing the checkbook and pruning roses and cooking exotic dishes (frequently disasters) and turning the garden hose on the dog...Harking back to this same period, Pat says I resented interruptions and was preoccupied, distracted, and totally irritable!  God bless her, she waited a couple of years to tell me this.

Collins also easily mixes the excitement of spaceflight with the many varied and truly larger-than-life personalities of the Apollo program. While Armstrong and Aldrin will be famous for many years, Collins also paints insightful portraits of chief astronaut Deke Slayton, the boundless Pete Conrad, easygoing John Young, and many others.

Carrying the Fire is written with unusual modesty for an astronaut's biography. One gets the feeling that Collins feels fortunate just to have been a part of flying to the moon.  In turn, we're fortunate he wrote about his experiences.

And a little extra...

In a small way, Carrying the Fire provided the spark for ideas and  In the final chapter Collins provides some observations about the men he flew with in space.  He writes, "All of us tend to communicate at a shallow level about technical things, and about events rather than ideas."

Except in our case both ideas and events matter.  Read more about our origins in About Us.


Looking for other great books?  Our Books Archive has your next fascinating read.  

And don't forget to get Carrying the Fire today at 

Cooper Square Press has recently reprinted Carrying the Fire in trade paperback (above left).

Also look for a hardback copy (above right) anytime you are in a used bookstore, at Powells, or eBay.

Posted Saturday December 1, 2001.