Red Moon Rising, written by Matthew Brzezinski, addresses this gap in spectacular fashion. In this book, Sergei Korolev, the father of Russian rocket science, the man more than anyone responsible for Sputnik, becomes a fully-fleshed character. The reader becomes entranced by the fortunes of this brilliant but flawed man, sworn to a life of secret anonymity even as his satellites orbit gloriously overhead.
Brzezinski does a masterful job portraying the bizarre and sometimes frightening politics occurring in both hemispheres at this time. Most startling to me was to learn of the ultra-provocative policies of President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State at the time, John Foster Dulles. With religious zeal, Dulles did everything he could to demonize the Soviets. He raised the spectre of a surprise attack against the United States when it was clear to everyone in the military that the Soviets had no such capacity. Dulles spoke of “total war” and “massive retaliation” with no seeming purpose but to intimidate the Russians. Dulles regularly ordered bomber missions into Soviet airspace to test their defenses and sent spy planes on reconnaissance missions at an altitude where no Russian jets could respond.
Is it any wonder then that Khrushchev, quite desperately, looked for some means of “retaliation’ of his own?
Of course, Dulles hyper-aggressive, paranoid, anti-Soviet policy came back to bite him big time. For all their supposed ‘intelligence’, the CIA knew nothing about Sergei Korolev and, despite warnings from some quarters that the Soviet Union might soon put a satellite into orbit, no one in the White House believed it. The prevailing opinion was that the Russians were little more than backward peasants, led by a bumbling leader and thus incapable of such a technological feat.
Of course they were, and they did. And that story makes up the fascinating content of RED MOON RISING.