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“Beyond has the exhilaration of a fine thriller, but it is vividly embedded in the historic tensions of the Cold War, and peopled by men and women brought sympathetically, and sometimes tragically, to life.”—Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road 09.07 am. April 12, 1961. A top secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of th “Beyond has the exhilaration of a fine thriller, but it is vividly embedded in the historic tensions of the Cold War, and peopled by men and women brought sympathetically, and sometimes tragically, to life.”—Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road 09.07 am. April 12, 1961. A top secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of the Soviet Union’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile—originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead—and blasts into the skies. His name is Yuri Gagarin. And he is about to make history.  Travelling at almost 18,000 miles per hour—ten times faster than a rifle bullet—Gagarin circles the globe in just 106 minutes. From his windows he sees the earth as nobody has before, crossing a sunset and a sunrise, crossing oceans and continents, witnessing its beauty and its fragility. While his launch begins in total secrecy, within hours of his landing he has become a world celebrity – the first human to leave the planet.  Beyond tells the thrilling story behind that epic flight on its 60th anniversary. It happened at the height of the Cold War as the US and USSR confronted each other across an Iron Curtain. Both superpowers took enormous risks to get a man into space first, the Americans in the full glare of the media, the Soviets under deep cover. Both trained their teams of astronauts to the edges of the endurable. In the end the race between them would come down to the wire. Drawing on extensive original research and the vivid testimony of eyewitnesses, many of whom have never spoken before, Stephen Walker unpacks secrets that were hidden for decades and takes the reader into the drama of one of humanity’s greatest adventures – to the scientists, engineers and political leaders on both sides, and above all to the American astronauts and their Soviet rivals battling for supremacy in the heavens.  


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“Beyond has the exhilaration of a fine thriller, but it is vividly embedded in the historic tensions of the Cold War, and peopled by men and women brought sympathetically, and sometimes tragically, to life.”—Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road 09.07 am. April 12, 1961. A top secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of th “Beyond has the exhilaration of a fine thriller, but it is vividly embedded in the historic tensions of the Cold War, and peopled by men and women brought sympathetically, and sometimes tragically, to life.”—Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road 09.07 am. April 12, 1961. A top secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of the Soviet Union’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile—originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead—and blasts into the skies. His name is Yuri Gagarin. And he is about to make history.  Travelling at almost 18,000 miles per hour—ten times faster than a rifle bullet—Gagarin circles the globe in just 106 minutes. From his windows he sees the earth as nobody has before, crossing a sunset and a sunrise, crossing oceans and continents, witnessing its beauty and its fragility. While his launch begins in total secrecy, within hours of his landing he has become a world celebrity – the first human to leave the planet.  Beyond tells the thrilling story behind that epic flight on its 60th anniversary. It happened at the height of the Cold War as the US and USSR confronted each other across an Iron Curtain. Both superpowers took enormous risks to get a man into space first, the Americans in the full glare of the media, the Soviets under deep cover. Both trained their teams of astronauts to the edges of the endurable. In the end the race between them would come down to the wire. Drawing on extensive original research and the vivid testimony of eyewitnesses, many of whom have never spoken before, Stephen Walker unpacks secrets that were hidden for decades and takes the reader into the drama of one of humanity’s greatest adventures – to the scientists, engineers and political leaders on both sides, and above all to the American astronauts and their Soviet rivals battling for supremacy in the heavens.  

30 review for Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laurence Westwood

    Beyond is the thrilling story of man’s first journey into space sixty years ago, the extraordinary solo voyage taken by the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 on the 12th April 1961. Other books have been written about Yuri Gagarin but in Beyond the author Stephen Walker not only introduces new information gained from the personal interviews he conducted with many of the participants, but he also fixes the voyage of Vostok 1 firmly in time at the height of the Cold War. So, not only do we get to Beyond is the thrilling story of man’s first journey into space sixty years ago, the extraordinary solo voyage taken by the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 on the 12th April 1961. Other books have been written about Yuri Gagarin but in Beyond the author Stephen Walker not only introduces new information gained from the personal interviews he conducted with many of the participants, but he also fixes the voyage of Vostok 1 firmly in time at the height of the Cold War. So, not only do we get to understand the differences between the Soviet and American space programs in terms of their respective approaches to rocket engineering and risk-taking, but also the differing political pressures that were brought to bear on those programs. I have to admit I was first baffled by the inclusion of detail, for instance, on the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco until I realised that it helped me to not only place the voyage of Vostok 1 at an important point of history but also to understand the decisions that would soon be taken in the White House in the aftermath of the voyage that would lead to the creation of the Apollo program and the race to put a man on the moon. Though the engineering problems faced by the Soviet and American space programs never exactly take a back seat, this book is as much, if not more so, about the participants. It is about the similarities and contrasts between the Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts, between the Soviet leader Khrushchev and American president John F. Kennedy, and between the Soviet rocket designer (and former gulag inmate) Korolev and the American rocket designer (and former Nazi) von Braun. It is about the difficult and moving relationship between Yuri Gagarin, the very young, always smiling, always charismatic, first choice by the Soviet program to take the first flight into space, and his back-up, the much more complicated, Pushkin quoting, Gherman Titov, who would never ever properly come to terms with not being the first man in space. It is also about the difficult and moving relationship between the much more mature and experienced Americans, the first choice, the very complicated Alan Shepard, and his back up John Glenn, the all-American hero. What really impresses about this book is the quality of the writing, how easy it is to read, how exciting it is to read. Perhaps, this is because Stephen Walker, through the various drafts the book took to write, could never hide his own excitement, his own passion for Yuri Gagarin’s story – and what a story it is. It cannot be said that we are now truly complacent about space flight but it is hard to imagine sixty years on the huge risks that men like Yuri Gagarin – sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly – were willing to take for their country, for the thrill of going where no human has gone before, for the pride to be called the first man in space. This book captures all this, as well as the tragic aftermath, the return from space by Yuri Gagarin to a very different world – a world that saw him as much more than the smiling and very brave young man that he was. He had become a symbol of Soviet prestige, someone that the whole world wanted to touch. One final comment on this superb book: some readers unfamiliar with space exploration history may find themselves distressed by the often detailed discussions about the animals sent up into space by both the Soviet and American space programs, voyages more often than not that led to the animals’ deaths. However, these stories, though sad, are an important and very often ignored or forgotten part of the history of space exploration, and Stephen Walker gives them all their proper due. Highly recommended!!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kjell

    This is a chunky book but yet I read it in no time. Sounds like a cliche but this book is really hard to put down. Stephen Walker manages to describe in parallell the US and Soviet efforts and competition when going for the first man in space. Lots of detail but all relevant and never boring. This is also a great lesson in history and loads of other learnings to made as well. Highly recommended, I consider this book a masterpiece.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to NetGalley and to Harper for an advanced copy of this book. In Beyond The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space, Stephen Walker takes us back to the middle of the Cold War where the Soviet Union and the United States fought for every opportunity to be thought of as superior, be it on the ground, in the press, in the hearts and in the sky. The Soviets took the lead with Sputnik, but soon both nations were shooting a Noah's ark of animals, dogs My thanks to NetGalley and to Harper for an advanced copy of this book. In Beyond The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space, Stephen Walker takes us back to the middle of the Cold War where the Soviet Union and the United States fought for every opportunity to be thought of as superior, be it on the ground, in the press, in the hearts and in the sky. The Soviets took the lead with Sputnik, but soon both nations were shooting a Noah's ark of animals, dogs, chimpanzees, mice, hoping that with each launch the knowledge gained would aid in being the first nation to escape the Earth's gravity. My favorite parts were about the men of both nations chosen watching animals and dummies being fired into the sky, wishing it were themselves, and knowing that firing another chimp meant the opposition could get ahead and win. Mr. Walker has a great gift of you are there for this moments from his extensive research and interviewing everyone he could, with clear explanations of the science and the politics. The people though really are given their time on the stage a very interesting well written history about a time where science and doing things had a way of uniting people, and how reaching your dream of soaring high might not be worth it in the end.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rosann

    At last, a comprehensive, well written, extensively researched, and exciting account of the early days of the Space Race. Though other books (The Right Stuff for example) have re-counted the exploits of the first astronauts, Beyond gives the reader the full story. The scientists, the dreamers, the engineers, the politicians, and the astronauts/cosmonauts that strove, and competed, and suffered and achieved the first steps toward space exploration. Author Stephen Walker lays out the most complete At last, a comprehensive, well written, extensively researched, and exciting account of the early days of the Space Race. Though other books (The Right Stuff for example) have re-counted the exploits of the first astronauts, Beyond gives the reader the full story. The scientists, the dreamers, the engineers, the politicians, and the astronauts/cosmonauts that strove, and competed, and suffered and achieved the first steps toward space exploration. Author Stephen Walker lays out the most complete story to date, especially using relatively newly disclosed Russian information. As a reader, though I knew about the most prominent names and dates, I found myself riveted by the accomplishments of the men of the Mercury Seven and the Vanguard Six programs. I was staggered by the brash, brazen, courageous, insane nature of the race to be the first to send a man into space. Each moment, when so much depended upon little tested (or untested) technology, seemingly at times held together by spit and imagination, amazing things were achieved. From the first steps by dogs, and chimpanzees, and mice into the stratosphere, until Yuri Gagarin flew into space and returned safely, and beyond, Walker manages to keep the reader engaged, nervous, and even uncertain.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sue Foster

    Excellent well written book. The author has an easy to writting style which allows the reader to engage with the people in this book on a personal level. There fears and frustration as they pushed the new technology almost to the limit. The courage of these space pioneers Russian and American is shown clearly. The book alternates by chapters between the two groups which works well as it gives you the feel of the race. I started the book and finished it three days later. An amazing read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    The name Yuri Gagarin, in my very early years, was synonymous with heroism. Bracketed with Stirling Moss, Denis Law, and Lennon and McCartney, no less. Although the author is correct in declaring that Gagarin’s superhuman feat was eclipsed by Neil Armstrong’s achievement 9 years after the Soviet hero’s first planetary orbit, all who followed stood on the stocky shoulders of this pocket dynamo. Walker tells a supremely-engaging tale. He creates almost-tangible context as the Cold War goes on, Sov The name Yuri Gagarin, in my very early years, was synonymous with heroism. Bracketed with Stirling Moss, Denis Law, and Lennon and McCartney, no less. Although the author is correct in declaring that Gagarin’s superhuman feat was eclipsed by Neil Armstrong’s achievement 9 years after the Soviet hero’s first planetary orbit, all who followed stood on the stocky shoulders of this pocket dynamo. Walker tells a supremely-engaging tale. He creates almost-tangible context as the Cold War goes on, Soviet secrecy tightens to alarming proportions, and ghastly risks are taken with faulty and suspect equipment to win a battle in the escalating propaganda war. This is no cold documentary. It’s part-thriller, part biography, an incredible adventure story with Walker as excited to reveal it all with the same enthusiasm as those of us who devoured the tales of bravery and chutzpah of those pioneering times.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    Since Covid-19 began I have had trouble concentrating and it's been hard for me to focus on reading anything. This book, however, I could not put down. It was fascinating and exciting and truly conveyed the awesomeness of Yuri Gagarin for being the first human to have left the planet. My heart however, goes out to all those dogs, frogs, chimps and rodents who paved the way!! Totally recommend this wonderful read. Since Covid-19 began I have had trouble concentrating and it's been hard for me to focus on reading anything. This book, however, I could not put down. It was fascinating and exciting and truly conveyed the awesomeness of Yuri Gagarin for being the first human to have left the planet. My heart however, goes out to all those dogs, frogs, chimps and rodents who paved the way!! Totally recommend this wonderful read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barrowsend

    Fascinating insight into the human side of the race into space.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    I love facts and figures, throw in history in the making and I'm always happy! I love facts and figures, throw in history in the making and I'm always happy!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    A truly superb and brilliantly researched work; even space travel fans will learn a lot here. The risks that Gagarin took are excellently related.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cathal

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Johnson

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Skilleter

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Kresal

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Clarke

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Ayres

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  20. 5 out of 5

    James Parkhouse

  21. 4 out of 5

    Trevor John Wright

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ian MacDonald

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sfoell

  24. 5 out of 5

    MR R F Boydell

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dalia

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Neil Glenister

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zoë Cleaver

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mr W K Williams

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tori

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Wagner

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