An insightful autobiography from one of the most famous astronauts ever, Magnificent Desolation begins with the Apollo 11 mission which landed the first men on the moon in 1969. This makes for a riveting first few chapters. The rest of the book, while interesting enough and obviously heartfelt, is an anticlimax, which mirrors Buzz Aldrin’s feelings on returning from the moon. I don’t mean anything negative by this, merely agreeing with Aldrin that there’s no way to top that highlight of his career.
Aldrin’s focus is on his personal problems after the mission – the stress of an unhappy marriage, the alcoholism and depression he struggled with, the media circus, always being known as ‘the second man on the moon’, the perception that NASA was taking advantage of him, the frustration at bureaucracy getting in the way of the American space programme. He notes that no one had ever investigated the effects of going into space on astronauts’ mental health and that in the 1970s, speaking openly about having depression (particularly as a man, and especially as a man popularly considered as a hero) could be disastrous for one’s public profile. To his credit, he spoke out about it. The tone of the book begins to lighten when he meets Lois, the love of his life. There is quite a lot about her but this reflects her vital importance to him as his cheerleader, organiser and introduction to society.
I’m not sure if this is due to the book being a collaboration, or maybe it’s because I’m used to a more confessional style of autobiography, but I get the sense that certain elements are held back. It’s very much about his career, his family and his mental health. There’s little about his time before attending military academy (although perhaps that was covered in his previous older autobiography). What I find intriguing is that he met so many famous people, including world leaders, yet he has nothing to say about the experience other than describing the formalities. Most likely this is for diplomatic reasons and to appeal to a broad audience.
First published in 2009. At the time of writing this review, Buzz Aldrin is 90 years old.