Challenger by Adam Higginbotham

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Challenger:

It was a question of when, not if.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

When Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon in 1969, an estimated 600 million people were watching.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

It is estimated that 95% of the US saw footage of the Challenger disaster by the next day.

My Take on Challenger:

Sometimes books make me nervous. With Adam Higginbotham’s Challenger, I worried there was no way it could reach the heights of his previous book, Midnight at Chernobyl. Great news, I had nothing to worry about.

Higginbotham can now be considered an expert at taking a tragedy and deconstructing it while engaging the reader at every turn. As someone who can easily get sleepy when I read too much science, this is no small feat to keep me focused. Challenger is the story of the space shuttle disaster in 1986. If you are an American, you either saw it happen or heard about it in school. Like Chernobyl, it is a major event in history which is not fully understood. Higginbotham seeks to fix that and does so.

This book will leave you heartbroken, tired, and absolutely enraged. Seven people died not because of the vagaries of nature but due to amazing human hubris. Many narratives of tragedies spend their page count on the disaster and the gory aftermath. Challenger spends the vast majority of the time explaining not why Challenger happened but leaving the reader wondering how it didn’t happen much sooner. Higginbotham is one of the few writers who can make even a boring science discussion seem propulsive. In fact, the book almost feels like a horror story at certain points as the author clearly leaves clues on what will ultimately be more casualties than just the crew of the Challenger.

I can guarantee this will be in my top 5 books of the year. It’s just science.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Avid Reader Press.)


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