Their achievements and ambitions are examined in closer, and more colourful, detail in The Space Barons, written by Christian Davenport, a veteran Washington Post reporter. His book is a study in contrasts between the two billionaire space entrepreneurs. Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is the impassioned, fast-moving, publicity-seeking hustler determined to do everything today, if not yesterday. Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin, is the calculating, secretive, methodical engineer... In spite of their impressive accomplishments, the hubris of both Musk and Bezos will strike many readers as monumental. Space travel remains a perilous and unpredictable undertaking. The book serves as a useful reminder that popular expectations can sometimes run way ahead of reality.
In his acknowledgments, Davenport admits that it’s “awkward writing a book about someone who could have you fired” (Bezos owns the Washington Post, where Davenport works) but claims that Bezos gets “the same treatment in these pages” as the other men. I would say that’s true, but mostly because Davenport treats all of the barons as heroic saviors of the crumbling dreams of the space age, boldly taking charge of our destiny...Seemingly dazzled by these billionaires, and fascinated by their cutthroat competition to dominate private space services and travel, Davenport situates himself firmly within the booster tradition established by Wolfe and Norman Mailer
Christian Davenport, a Washington Post writer, has spent years persuading each man to talk in detail about their plans, which, in the secretive Bezos’s case, is no mean feat. He paints a brilliant picture of an epic chase for history that is “full of risk and high adventure, a crash that cost the life of a test pilot, a rocket explosion, suspicions of sabotage, lawsuits pitting underdog upstarts against the national military-industrial complex, and the historic landings that herald a new golden age of exploration”...The book is explosive but not without its faults. It will contain too much detail for many readers and is often uncritical of the astropreneurs...But Davenport has done one thing, alright. He has made knocking on heaven’s door thrilling again.
The trouble is that this new space race is just not as interesting as the first one. We were once sold a story of exploration. Exploitation is a poor sequel... Davenport’s determination to depict his characters as plucky upstarts (he calls a successful SpaceX launch the ‘triumph of the little guy’) rather than masters of the universe suggests that he has forgotten his own title. If these space barons are the 21st century’s robber barons, we should ask whether their power is being used for the public good... Rather than making heroes of these individuals, we should be asking who’s in control of space.
“The Space Barons,” by Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, is an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport’s access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling.