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It seems that most books on the history of space flight begin with Sputnik and, except for something about von Braun and Goddard, and maybe Ziolkowski, pretty much proceed as if nothing much happened between the V2 and Sputnik. But I've been reading Werner Buedeler's book from around 1980 (can't find a copyright date). And, although he doesn't say much about it, he makes it clear that there was a lot going on. Animal centrifuge experiments, sounding rockets, some with animals, balloon flights and aeronauts with pressure suits or in pressurized capsules similar to the Mercury capsule. The US had a manned space program, it was just moving at a leisurely pace until Sputnik kicked it into high gear. The Russians obviously had their own program, because Sputnik didn't come from nowhere. It seems like rocketry and space travel were just in the air in various places around the world since the late 19th century, it didn't begin with von Braun and it didn't take a break between World War II and Sputnik. I'm looking for a decent book that makes sense of all of that pre-Mercury/Sputnik stuff.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure exactly what you are looking for so posting as a comment, but there are number of good NASA History Series books dealing with the "early days". If you go to history.nasa.gov/series95.html and search for SP-4200 there are ebooks for Vanguard, Ranger, "Early Years of Space Science", etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ One I enjoyed many years ago was "... The Heavens and the Earth" which is a political history of the space race. A pretty heavy book and not really a populist read. $\endgroup$
    – user21233
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ On a side note, but then one on a very good - and funny ! - book: "Ignition!" by John Drury Clark, on the history of (the use of) chemical rocket propellants. The author starts as early as the Goddard era, and as the idea one guy in Leningrad had, in 1930, to use.... toluene. Highly recommended: amazon.com/Ignition-Informal-Propellants-University-Classics/dp/… $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ Ignition! is actually on my list of things to get sooner rather than later. "The Heavens and the Earth" looks interesting for different reasons... what's interesting is what were they thinking, where did they get those ideas, what is their legacy? But here I wanted to see a progression of technology, like some guy who built balloon capsules and then contributed to the space program, or things of that nature. I wanted to see where there was a direct line of development from A to B. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ That NASA archive... wow. I always forget that they actually have a library of stuff online. "Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce"... Historical analogs? I don't even know what that could be, but I know how I could find out... $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 18:15

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