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The Write Stuff

Nonfiction master Robert Kurson tackles his biggest epic journey yet.

Robert Kurson pays a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, where Apollo 8’s command module resides.  


Robert Kurson’s life seemed to be set: He had a law degree from Harvard and a partner-track position with a prestigious downtown law firm. Then he threw it all away to be a writer. “I hated law so much—I would literally count the seconds until the day ended,” the 54-year-old Kurson recalls.

His journey into the writing world wasn’t easy—Kurson began his journalism career with the not-quite illustrious position of late-night sports data entry clerk for the Chicago Sun-Times. But talent has a way of rising, and now, 23 years later, he has just released his fourth book, Rocket Men ($28, Penguin Random House).
The gripping book details the amazing— and often overlooked—story of Apollo 8, the first U.S. mission to the moon.

“I had barely heard of Apollo 8, but I saw the capsule at the Museum of Science and Industry, and I started reading about it,” he says. “Other astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, said Apollo 8 was one of the greatest, most dangerous missions NASA ever attempted.” Kurson notes that NASA put the plan together in four months, when projects of this magnitude typically took more than a year.

“Apollo 8 had no backup engine. If anything went wrong, they were going to be up there forever,” he says. “This is one of the very rare occasions where you find a true treasure, and I realized, ‘This story needs to be told the right way.’”

Kurson’s other books include The New York Times best-seller Shadow Divers, the story of two men who discovered the remains of a German U-boat 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey, and Crashing Through, about a blind man (who happens to be a world record-holding downhill skier) who undergoes a dangerous operation to regain his sight.

“I seem to be drawn to stories of heroic people who pushed beyond boundaries that others thought were insurmountable,” he says. “I love the idea that it’s always possible for people to do more than they believe they can do.”