John D. Clark, Rutgers Press, 1972
At a library used book sale in October 2018, I paid $2 for a pristine first edition of the 1972 "Ignition!" by John D. Clark, about the postwar development of modern liquid rocket fuels, mostly military.
Clark was science fiction author Isaac Asimov's boss in Philadelphia during WW2. Asimov wrote the introduction:
- Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don't mean garden-variety crazy or a merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.
- There are, after all, some chemicals that explode shatteringly, some that flame ravenously, some that corrode hellishly, some that poison sneakily, and some There are, after all, some chemicals that explode that stink stenchily. As far as I know, though, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole."
Und so weiter. The book is a mix of chemistry jargon, rare successes, expensive mistakes, horrible accidents, and snarky slander. Clark writes:
- Everyone whom I have asked for information has been more than cooperative, practically climbing into my lap and licking my face. ... As one of them wrote to me, "What an opportunity to bring out repressed hostilities".
The book was recently reprinted as a paperback. However, the first edition is a collector's item; one rare book dealer asks $1500 for a copy. I assume that lawyers are buying them as exhibits in disability lawsuits, and billing their clients for twice the price. Some of the same idiotically dangerous experiments were repeated by different labs over and over (see "far-out lunatic" above), and are probably still maiming researchers today.