Book Review: The Astronaut Wives Club

18 Feb

I’ve been enjoying more non-fiction lately, and this book was a really cool introduction to something I had never heard about – the lives of the wives of astronauts.

For about a decade, these women lived as a strange mix of reality stars, Army wives, stay-at-home moms, and socialites. They were followed by photographers and reporters everywhere they went (the photo on the cover of the book is a photo that ran on the cover of LIFE magazine), became friends with Jackie Kennedy, attended parties with every ’60s celebrity you can imagine, and lived in a suburb where they spent most of their days worrying about their husbands and trying to be the perfect housewives America wanted to see.

At the time, the women had to be perfect: today, we may love watching our celebrities fail, but then it was just a disgrace. Most of their husbands were philanderers, but they couldn’t say a word, and the first “space divorce” was a huge scandal.

Lily Koppel made friends with many of these women, now elderly, through the course of writing the book. They were able to share things that they simply couldn’t share back when they were in the spotlight, giving the reader a look behind-the-scenes at how they were feeling in this strange time of their lives.

The 1960s are a time that is both completely foreign to me and also feels very familiar, so I enjoyed reading this book about daily life in the spotlight. Koppel does a good job of showing these women’s relationship with feminism and the expectations that society had of them and they had of each other.

I had a difficult time keeping the women’s stories straight, as there are a few dozen mentioned, and it isn’t written from any particular person’s point of view. Reading the book though, and coming across familiar moments like the moon landing and “Houston, we have a problem,” from a perspective I had never thought of before – their families, back on earth, terrified – was a really fun angle on history.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the 1960s or the space race, as it finally gives these women a voice they haven’t had before. Additionally, ABC is developing it as a mini-series, airing this spring.

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