Page 12 - Summer_2016
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PAGE 12                VOLUME 7 ISSUE 2

         Book Reviews

                    Homer Hickam—Rocket Boys; The Coalwood Way; Sky of Stone

                                     Reviewed by Terri Grammer Haid ‘63

Except for those few scary days in October, 1962, when we were on the brink of nuclear disaster, we were so secure in
our little Jesuit cocoon that we didn’t give much thought to the outside world. Most of us came from WV or surround-
ing states, but very few of us came from the southern coal fields of WV, and they didn’t talk about it. This trilogy of
memoirs by a contemporary growing up in Coalwood, a coal camp in McDowell County, is a revelation to anyone
who never knew such places existed, let alone produced a future NASA engineer.

Homer Hickam was encouraged to begin his memoirs as filler needed quickly for Smithsonian A ir & Space, one of the
journals for which he was writing in 1994.

In his first book, Rocket Boys (changed to October Sky when it became a movie) he and five friends were inspired by
their high school chemistry teacher to build rockets, in response to the Russians beating us in the space race by send-
ing up the first Sputnik in the fall of 1957. The success of this very entertaining, well-written memoir (which reads
like a novel) encouraged him to write 2 more, encompassing his life as a son of a mine foreman struggling to save the
mine from closure, who had no time for his son and was not interested in his son’s childish adventures. Much to his
father’s disapproval, during college at VPI (now known as Virginia Tech), Hickam worked as a union miner in the
summers to pay his way through college.

After many diverse jobs, including a stint in Vietnam as an Army engineer, he did finally become a NASA engineer,
working in Huntsville, AL, training astronauts for space travel. If you have ever enjoyed a book so much that you hat-
ed for it to end, you are in for a treat because you have The Coalwood Way and Sky of Stone to look forward to! Be
sure to read the epiloques.

                                            Toby Wilkinson—The Nile
                                         Reviewed by Roann Wojcik ‘63

I was born and lived most of my life in river cities bordering the Ohio River. I have always been fascinated by this
artery that brought my ancestors to its banks to settle and develop towns and raise families. When studying and read-
ing about other areas, I always observe their waterways to determine how their civilizations developed.
The Nile by Toby Wilkinson certainly caught my eye. By taking his readers on an excursion of the Nile River from
Aswan to Cairo, Egypt, he leads us through ancient civilizations to the present. This renowned Egyptologist acquaints
us with pharaohs, emperors, historians, archaeologists, journalists, and tour boat captains that have settled on or trav-
eled the Nile. The voyage takes us past ancient monuments and archaeological sites that have mystified people for ag-
es.
Wilkinson’s rather short book (282pgs) is an enjoyable read. It is rich in detail about the civilizations and historical
characters that populated the banks of the Nile. The River has watched as the pharaonic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic,
Colonial, and contemporary periods have taken place. We not only learn the geography but the history, economics,
politics, and culture of Egypt as we travel through the ages.
I was delighted to go on this journey while reading The Nile. Exploring the ancient history of Egypt, and reflecting on
the concerns facing this country since the “Arab Spring,” I have a better understanding of the area and recent develop-
ments. The author did not elaborate on the present situation.
The Nile River has been witness to many events and peoples; some have been volatile and caused uncertainty. It will,
however, continue to flow, giving life to all who settle there.
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