Red Moon Rising Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age

Matthew Brzezinski

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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On October 4, 1957, Sergei Korolev, Russia's chief rocket designer, launched Sputnik. The artificial satellite could orbit the earth and cross American skies at will.

In Red Moon Rising, Matthew Brzezinski takes us inside the Kremlin, the White House, secret military facilities, and the halls of Congress to bring to life the Russians and Americans who feared and distrusted their compatriots as much as their superpower rivals. Drawing on original interviews and new documentary sources from both sides of the Cold War divide, he shows how Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower were buffeted by crises of their own creation, leaving the door open to ambitious politicians and scientists to squabble over the heavens and the earth. He writes about the paranoia of the time, with combatants that included two future presidents, survivors of the gulag, corporate chieftains, rehabilitated Nazis, and a general who won the day by refusing to follow orders.


Praise for Red Moon Rising

"The story opens on a chill Dutch dawn, 1944. A German V-2 rocket rises into the gloaming, arcs toward London and vaporizes a suburban street. Cut to: a Soviet scientist poking through a secret German rocket facility outside the ruins of Berlin, lifting its secrets. Cut to: a lonely GI stumbling upon a Nazi rocket factory deep in a German mountainside . . . [Brzezinski] tells the entire story of postwar Soviet political and missile development during a single visit Nikita Khrushchev and other Politburo members make to a Russian missile base in 1956 . . . one comes away not only entertained but informed, with a clear sense of why the pennywise Soviets leapt ahead in missile technology while the Americans, focused on developing bombers to reach Russian soil, failed to realize the importance of space until they woke beneath a communist moon. What interests Brzezinski most . . . is the bureaucratic struggles leading up to Sputnik's launch—the internecine squabbles between arms of the Soviet bureaucracy as well as those between the Army and Air Force. Few officials on either side, it appears, had any clue what a very big deal Sputnik was until the Western press learned of it, declaring the Russians had won the first heat in a race no one had quite understood they were running."—Bryan Burrough, The Washington Post

"As Matt Brzezinski recounts in his exuberant narrative of the superpower space race in the months surrounding the Sputnik shot, Americans had little to fear . . . The furor surrounding Sputnik, Brzezinski shows, grew not from a rational appraisal of American or Soviet abilities but from bitter rivalries within each government for political or bureaucratic advantage . . . Brzezinski, a former Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, tells the story of American and Soviet decisions with remarkable dramatic—even cinematic—flair."—Mark Atwood Lawrence, The New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating and highly revealing . . . Riveting history, dramatically told."The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Combin[es] a scientific plotline with the history and characters of a Cold War thriller."—The Times (London)

"[A] spectacular and accessible history of the space race . . . Brzezinski displays depth, insight and showmanship."USA Today

"In our fear of terrorist attacks, we forget there was an even more panicky time—when Russia's Sputnik first sped across the night sky in October 1957, signaling that the Soviet Union could launch nuclear-tipped missiles at the United States. By plumbing Russian as well as American sources, Matthew Brzezinski has given us a vivid, insightful account of that paranoid age."—Evan Thomas, author of Sea of Thunder and coauthor of The Wise Men

"Using the Sputnik launch as his centerpiece, Brzezinski brilliantly flashes back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Moscow. A truly gripping, important book."—Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge and The Boys of Pointe du Hoc

"Matthew Brzezinski's reportorial skills and smooth writing propel the narrative forward at the perfect pitch. Red Moon Rising is a . . . mixture of scientific daring, politics, Cold War duels, and big-time personalities."—Neal Bascomb, author of Red Mutiny

"[Brzezinski's] account not only tells us how the Russians did it, but how the Americans, bewildered at first, finally got going with their own space program."—Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (October Sky)

"Brzezinski brings years of experience as a Moscow-based journalist to bear on his subject, the very earliest days of the space race. His exhaustive research among newly opened archives in both Moscow and Washington is evident. He begins with a terse, dramatic description of a V-2 rocket attack on London before moving on to the cutthroat contest between former allies to find, isolate and capture Hitler's rocket technology, including the visionary scientists like Werner Von Braun who created it . . . Brzezinski intertwines the Sputnik program's technical achievements with the global conflict growing between the emerging superpowers led by Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev. Though the author focuses primarily on events leading to the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, subsequent chapters cover the launch of Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite in February of 1958. In the process, Brzezinski demonstrates, America and Russia both changed drastically as a new culture of competition emerged."—Kirkus Reviews

"Brzezinski's speedy narrative of the first satellite slings readers from launch pads to conference rooms. Beyond the storied facts of the Sputnik event, Brzezinski integrates a theme of Eisenhower and Khrushchev's initially dim understanding of Sputnik's significance. They soon sensed the extraordinary societal reaction of pride in the USSR and panic in the U.S., but their adjustments were quite different. Brzezinski dramatizes Khrushchev's personally shaky grip on power in 1957, when Stalinists attempted to oust him, connecting the satellite spectacular to a reinforcement of his political position. Ike, on the other hand, his eye on expenses, tried to resist the do-something stampede but was overwhelmed. From the domestic politics of the cold-war rivals, Brzezinski shifts to the technically temperamental missiles with which the Soviet Union's secret 'Chief Designer' (Sergei Korolev) and his counterparts on rival U.S. Army and Navy teams strove to heave an orbiting orb."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"The writing is fast-paced and crisp, the stakes high and the tension palpable . . . Brzezinski, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, says this battle for military and technological control of space, part of the larger Cold War, had lasting consequences. Brzezinski illuminates how the space race divided Americans: for instance, then Sen. Lyndon Johnson wanted to aggressively pursue the race, but President Eisenhower thought the ambitious senator was merely seeking publicity. The author also dissects the failed American spin: despite White House claims that Sputnik was no big deal, the media knew it was huge. Sputnik II, launched a month later, was even more unsettling for Americans, causing them to question their way of life. The principals—Khrushchev, Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, rocket scientist Werner von Braun—are vividly realized. Yet even more than his absorbing narrative, Brzezinski's final analysis has staying power: although the U.S. caught up to the U.S.S.R., it was the Russians' early dominance in space that established the Soviet Union as a superpower equal to America."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Matthew Brzezinski is a former Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and has reported extensively on homeland-security issues for The New York Times Magazine and other publications. He is the author of Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism’s Wildest Frontier and Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security.

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  • Matthew Brzezinski

  • Matthew Brzezinski is a former Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and has reported extensively on homeland-security issues for The New York Times Magazine and other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.