Both the promotion of science, and its promoters, were different back then.
Anybody remember reading Willy Ley books?

Ockert on Buss, 'Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age'
<> [review]
by H-Net Reviews

*Jared S. Buss.* *Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age.* Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2017. Illustrations. xiii + 321 pp. $34.95
(cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-5443-8.

*Reviewed by* Ingrid Ockert (Science History Institute) *Published on*
(July, 2020) *Commissioned by* Daniella McCahey (University of Idaho)

*Printable Version: *

If you peruse a used bookstore, you will likely stumble upon the name Willy
Ley. The German-born writer was prolific and his books on fossils, space,
and history fill the nooks and crannies of many bookshops. My first Ley
book was a gorgeous Technicolor book about rockets, published in the late
1950s. As a teenager, I assumed that Ley was the pen name of a scientist
who moonlighted as a science consultant for films that I adored (like *Frau
im Mond *[1929]) and television programs (like Disney’s *Disneyland
*space films). But
then I stumbled upon his short stories in pulp science fiction magazines
and a factual column in back issues of *Galaxy* magazine. “Who was Willy
Ley?” I always found myself wondering.

Thankfully for me, Jared S. Buss’s stellar biography *Willy Ley: Prophet of
the Space Age* answers all of my questions about this quiet, modest pioneer
of the Space Age. Even more important, Buss successfully argues for Ley’s
inclusion as an important link between the two cosmos: Alexander von
Humboldt’s and Carl Sagan’s romantic naturalism. Ley, Buss shows, was
spellbound by the work of German romantic naturalists in the 1920s. When he
immigrated to the United States and started writing for popular magazines,
he brought with him a rich style of science writing that emphasized an
enchantment with the universe. Helpfully, Buss grounds us in the ways that
Ley learned about science while he was a young man. His descriptions of
Ley’s reading habitats, museum visits, and lecture attendance are
themselves astounding. Not since James A. Secord’s *Victorian Sensation:
The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges
of the Natural History of Creation *(2001) has a historian given us such a
close account of how an individual interacted with science in their daily
life. By focusing so closely on Ley’s interests, Buss offers a valuable
window into the influences on an influencer.

Buss’s second argument concerns Ley’s shifting identity as a writer. As he
notes in the introduction to the text, there is a surprising lack of
current literature about the people who shaped the public understanding of
science in the United States. Most of this literature has been focused on
antagonism between scientists and media producers. Yet the story is a bit
more complicated than that. There were a number of positive collaborations
between scientists and cultural producers in the 1950s and 1960s, as David
A. Kirby (*Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema *[2011])
has shown. Indeed, as Buss points out, some individuals became expert
facilitators between scientists and media titans—and Ley was one of these.
While he lacked formal credentials, he was a skillful storyteller and a
gracious promoter, who worked to boost colleagues like Wernher von Braun.
By the time that Ley made it “big,” he had spent twenty years networking
among public relations and publishing teams. He achieved success because of
his hard, tireless work convincing his peers of his expertise as a science

Buss’s third argument focuses on Ley’s contribution to a genre of science
popularization in the 1950s and 1960s: books that promoted science as a
form of democratic expression. As Buss points out, although this
historiographical outlook makes historians cringe, many science writers
wrote books that intertwined scientific research and democratic principles.
At the same time, Buss tracks how popular science writers like Ley eagerly
wrote about the history of science—until their optimistic texts eventually
fell out of favor with the general public and historians of science.

So, who was Ley? He wasn’t a scientist or an engineer (per se) but a
starry-eyed romantic who helped a generation of baby boomers dream about
the stars. Ley was one of a group of movers and shakers who, behind the
scenes, created the visual metaphors of the Space Age. I am grateful that
Buss has written such a complete, detailed biography. His nuanced
perspective on Ley’s role in the larger science communication scene helps
us understand how non-scientists served important roles as communicators in
the 1950s and 1960s. Ley’s lack of scientific credentials might have
initially slowed him down but did not stop him from eventually publishing
hundreds of influential articles that inspired other writers and
scientists. For proof of that influence, visit a used bookshop and pick up
one of his many excellent books, still wonderful to read decades later.
*Citation: *Ingrid Ockert. Review of Buss, Jared S., *Willy Ley: Prophet of
the Space Age*. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. July, 2020.


Claudia Pine

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged
as those who are
― Benjamin Franklin

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a
revolution.  -- Paul Cezanne

Nihil de nobis, sine nobis:  Nothing about us, without us!