Brilliant Rocket Scientist Killed in Explosion screamed the front-page headline of the Los Angeles Times on June 18, 1952. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer whose work had helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plotline into a reality, was at first mourned as a tragically young victim of mishandled chemicals. But as reporters dug deeper a shocking story emerged-Parsons had been performing occult rites and summoning spirits as a follower of Aleister Crowley-and he was promptly written off as an embarrassment to science.
George Pendle tells Parsons's extraordinary life story for the first time. Fueled from childhood by dreams of space flight, Parsons was a crucial innovator during rocketry's birth. But his visionary imagination also led him into the occult community thriving in 1930s Los Angeles, and when fantasy's pull became stronger than reality, he lost both his work and his wife. Parsons was just emerging from his personal underworld when he died at age thirty-seven. In Strange Angel, Pendle recovers a fascinating life and explores the unruly consequences of genius.
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Published in hardcover by Harcourt, 2005, 0-15-100997-X
"Forget geek stereotypes. Parsons's life seems straight out of a Hollywood thriller. . . . Pendle's book leaves us with a taste of genius's energy and fragility." -- Los Angeles Magazine
ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN PASADENA EXPLOSION screamed the headline of the Los Angeles Times. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer who helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plotline into a reality, was at first mourned as a scientific prodigy. But reporters soon uncovered a more shocking story: Parsons had been a devotee of black magic.
In this dazzling portrait of prewar superstition, cold war paranoia, and futuristic possibility, George Pendle re-creates the world of John Parsons, leader of the motley band of enthusiastic young men who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a cornerstone of the American space program. With a cast of characters including Howard Hughes, L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert Heinlein, Strange Angel explores the unruly consequences of genius.
"[Pendle] depicts Parsons' short, spectacular life as akin to one of his early rocket tests — a brilliant flash, a quick soar, and an inevitable, erratic fizzle back to Earth. Pendle weaves a fascinating yarn, reaching from the earliest sci-fi dreams of manned spaceflight to the real-life trial-and-error process that would eventually make it possible." --Seattle Times
GEORGE PENDLE writes about science, art, and culture for the Times (London), the Sunday Times, and the Financial Times, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
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