The Right Kind of Crazy

  • by Adam Steltzner, William Patrick
  • Narrated by Christopher Grove
  • 7 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The true story of how an unlikely leader helped inspire a team of rocket scientists to achieve the near impossible: landing a 2000-pound rover on Mars.
Few organizations solve as many impossible problems as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and nobody knows more about leading rocket scientists to unlikely breakthroughs than Adam Steltzner.
As the phase lead and development manager for EDL (entry, descent, and landing) of the Curiosity rover to Mars, Steltzner spearheaded the creation of one of engineering's wackiest kluges - the sky crane, which allowed the heaviest rover in the history of space exploration to land on Mars unscathed.
Steltzner is no ordinary engineer. His path to leadership was about as unlikely as they come. A child of beatnik parents, he was a daredevil and avid mountain biker, breaking 32 bones before squeaking through high school. He blew off college in favor of work at a health food store and playing bass in a band. After an interest in the movement of the stars led him to enroll part time at community college, Steltzner discovered an astonishing gift for math and physics. Within years he got his PhD and ensconced himself within the offbeat Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's decidedly unbureaucratic cousin, where success in a mission is the only metric that matters.
The Right Kind of Crazy is the story of the teamwork, drama, and extraordinary feats of innovation at the Jet Propulsion Lab that culminated in landing the rover Curiosity on Mars in 2012. It also weaves Steltzner's professional life - centering on the 10 years he and his team spent planning and then executing the landing of the rover - with his unlikely journey from academic underachiever to rocket scientist.
Along the way listeners will learn about what makes effective teams, how to stay on task for the long haul, and strategies for solving incredibly complex problems. The Right Kind of Crazy is a book for anyone striving for excellence.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Wasn't what I was hoping.

I'd give this book a solid "C-" rating overall. I picked it up hoping it'd be an exciting story primarily about the team, the decisions, and the process of how a complex NASA mission comes together.

The book had some of that, but not enough. There's a fair amount of biography that felt a bit unnecessary, arrogant, or seemed forced (like what motivational quites he claims to have written on his college physics exam equation sheets). Parts seem contradictory (bashing what he calls transition points from NASA Langley, but never seems to acknowledge his own designs had 100 transition points, etc.). Overall, the book came across too similar to a politician, who wrote a book to "write down his version of history."

Perhaps I'm biased. As a scientist who's got no current connection to NASA, I was hoping to pick up a book that'll turn my eyes to the heavens in wonder. I almost stopped listening when it became clear that feeling would never come.
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- Amazon Customer

Is it ever going to end.

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Focus it more on the narrative of the Curiosity rover and less on the complete history of Mars exploration. Provide fewer details about which room something occurred in and more about how the engineering problems were worked out. Remove most of the relationship and wife stories, because they seemed out of place and didn't really add the narrative. Drop a lot of the pretentious self analysis, because it really felt like rose colored glasses and hindsight and not in the moment thinking that fit with the narrative.


What could Adam Steltzner and William Patrick have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Choose if this is an autobiography, a philosophical introspective about good engineering and lessons learned, or a really great story about the challenges encountered while building the Curiosity rover.


Which character – as performed by Christopher Grove – was your favorite?

It's mostly first person storytelling, so no-one else really stood out.


If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Probably not. With the right cast and some great editing, it might be interesting. As is, it would be a pretty boring story.


Any additional comments?

1 - Apparently, tough engineering problems are solved by going to the desert and drinking a lot. Or by brining in someone new after months of effort. And all projects just take as long as they're going to take, but still end up on time-ish. Very little schedule concerns are really discussed.

2 - I recommend watching some of the mars rover landing animations before getting too far in. A lot of what is described can be hard to visualize at the level of detail necessary to understand the problems and solutions described. I had a copy of the physical book too, some sketches or napkin drawings could have made sections of this book really great.

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- C. Harley

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-12-2016
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio