Astronaut Wives Club (Koppel)

The Astronaut Wives Club:  A True Story
Lily Koppel, 2013
Grand Central Publishing
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781455503247

As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose—and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives—they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. The Astronaut Wives Club tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history. (From the publisher.)

Watch a video of the astronaut wives.

Author Bio
Where—Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A., Barnard College
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Lily Koppel is a writer living in New York. She is known for her books, The Astronaut Wives Club (2013) and The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal (2008). Astronaut Wives traces the lives and marriages of the wives of the nation's astronauts from 1969-1971. Red Leather Diary is about her discovery of a young woman’s diary, kept in New York in the 1930s, and its return to Florence Wolfson Howitt, its owner, at age 90. The diary was recovered from a steamer trunk found in a dumpster outside of Koppel's apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The non-fiction book is based on Koppel's New York Times City section cover story.

Koppel writes for the New York Times and other publications. She graduated from Barnard College in 2003 with a degree in English Literature and creative writing. Koppel began contributing reporting to the New York Times "Boldface Names" celebrity column in 2003.

She has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America and National Public Radio. (From .)

Book Reviews
A fair and accomplished reporter...Lily Koppel offers a grounded, irresistible and sociable social history.... Koppel's book deftly delivers The Wife Stuff.../ Koppel does an excellent job of capturing a group portrait with enough highlights, low points, sunny spots and shadows for individual features to emerge.... The Astronaut Wives Club is wholly and consistently in Koppel's voice: smart, evocative, informed and warm-an electric fireside chat with the women who put men on the moon.
Chicago Tribune

The men catapulted into space in the 20th century were interesting, sort of. The women they left back on earth were fascinating.... A lively account of how the wives coped with fame, fear, [and] loneliness.

This is one of those light, tasty summer reads you'll guzzle down like a milk shake.
Entertainment Weekly

[A] true (juicy) story. Gotta love non-fiction that feels like a beach read: Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club chronicles the wives of 1960s astronauts.... Put down that mystery and pick up some history!

In this entertaining and quirky throwback, journalist Koppel revisits the ladies who cheered and bolstered their men to victory in the U.S. space program..., revealing public triumph and rarely private agony. Koppel looks at the history of the race to space...focusing on the wives...[who] had to be gracious to the Life magazine reporters who invaded their homes, concealing unpleasant domestic details..., and unseemly competition with other wives.... This is truly a great snapshot of the times.
Publishers Weekly

The author's aim was to uncover the real lives behind the "perfect" astronaut wives, and she hits the mark, crafting an exceptional story that seriously examines the imperfection and humanity of America's heroic astronauts, their wives, and their families. —Crystal Goldman, San Jose State Univ. Lib., CA
Library Journal

Mad Men fans and history buffs alike won't want to miss a new book about...the lives of the astronauts' wives.... We meet the Mercury Seven women in the first chapter of The Astronaut Wives Club, and author Lily Koppel does a nice job of staying close to their stories. By the time you see the women's faces in the pictures, you'll feel like you're a member of the gang.... It's hard to believe no one has already written their story, and this reader is glad Koppel finally did.

Koppel explores the cohesiveness of a group of wives who formed an unofficial support group and their individual development during the early years of the Cold War. With the announcement on April 9, 1959, of the "nation's first astronauts," the women's lives changed, as they became instant celebrities along with their husbands.... Koppel describes their appearance on the pages of Life magazine, looking like "scoops of ice cream" in their "pressed pastel shirtwaists."... Insightful social history with a light touch.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Astronaut Wives Club:

1. Talk about the lives of the different women covered in the book. Whom did you most sympathize with, admire, or dislike?

2. What did you find most impressive regarding the level of support the women provided one another? Is there anything in your own life that resembles the bond that developed among the astronaut wives?

3. Discuss the various stresses the women were under: the invasion of privacy, the absense of husbands, the not infrequent infidelity, and  the anxiety for their husbands' lives. What was most difficult? What would you have found most difficult. Do you find any aspect of their lives enviable? Were the lives of the astronaut spouses any more difficult than other spouses whose husbands or wives go off to war?

4. Talk about Betty Grissom, Pat White and Martha Chaffee—the widows of the three men who were burned alive during a pre-launch test of their Apollo 1 mission. How did each woman handle the horrific tragedy? Pat White was considered "the final victim of the Apollo 1 fire," writes Lily Koppel. Is there any way in which Pat White's life might have had a better ending?

5. Talk about the marital relationships within the couples. Which marriages did you find solid and which were troubling...and why? Were you surprised at the number of marriages that ultimately failed?

6. To what degree, if any, might the lives of these women be different today given the change in society's attitudes toward women? Consider, for instance, their reactions to the Life magazine article:

The wives were completely shocked, worrying about how America would judge them. They would never wear such a bold colored lipstick. They were mothers, not vixens.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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