Thad Roberts, a fellow in a prestigious NASA program had an idea—a romantic, albeit crazy, idea. He wanted to give his girlfriend the moon. Literally.
Thad convinced his girlfriend and another female accomplice, both NASA interns, to break into an impregnable laboratory at NASA—past security checkpoints, an electronically locked door with cipher security codes, and camera-lined hallways—and help him steal the most precious objects in the world: the moon rocks.
But what does one do with an item so valuable that it’s illegal even to own? And was Thad Roberts—undeniably gifted, picked for one of the most competitive scientific posts imaginable, a possible astronaut—really what he seemed?
Mezrich has pored over thousands of pages of court records, FBI transcripts, and NASA documents and has interviewed most of the participants in the crime to reconstruct this Ocean’s Eleven–style heist, a madcap story of genius, love, and duplicity that reads like a Hollywood thrill ride. (publisher synopsis)
Mezrich's retelling of the true story of Thad Roberts' theft of 101 grams of moon rocks insists on painting Roberts as a modern-day Robin Hood who just helped himself to some scraps, that NASA itself had labeled as "trash", as a grand gesture of love towards a woman. But I wasn't convinced. I saw him more as self-centered and egotistical, so amazed by his own IQ that he felt "entitled".
Although based on the actual events, the book is fictionalized to read like a novel. But as such, it was disappointing. The pace was way too slow and it included a lot of unnecessary detail in some areas and left glaring holes in others. Comprehensive retelling of Roberts' relationships with the women in his life and his attempts to "remake" himself filled two-thirds of the pages, but the climax of the story - the heist itself - was glossed over. I wanted more specifics. I understood one or two people dodging security cameras on the way in, but how did they maneuver a 600 lb. safe on a dolly past the same cameras on the way out? How did they get it in/out of their vehicle and, later, into a dumpster? Why dispose of a 600 lb. safe in a dumpster? You don't think it will be noticed? Did someone as intelligent as Roberts truly believe that borrowing the get-away vehicle from a friend wouldn't leave an obvious trail straight back to him? How many dark colored jeeps with a NASA entrance sticker could there be? Not to mention, I felt deceived when, after 200 pages of buildup to stealing large amounts of moon rocks from one of the most secure locations in the country, just as the theft is beginning, it is revealed in an offhand comment that the heist has been "downsized" - "Oh yeah, and we realized we were never going to pull off that theft we've been planning for the past 200 pages, so we decided just to steal a safe." Still a major undertaking, but nothing compared to what had been promised. The final fifty pages covered Roberts' experience in prison - all of which could have been summed up in two pages at most.
Dave and I read this book together, and he doesn't necessarily share my opinions. He has more interest in NASA and the astronaut program than I, so he was more easily engrossed in the details. While he did agree that the narrative was long-winded, and that there were some questions left unanswered, his assessment isn't as negative. "I thought the topic was interesting, but the book was just ok."
We rated it a low 3 out of 5. While I think the story would have been better packaged as non-fiction, without the fabricated personal scenes, it wasn't a total loss. If nothing else, it made us reexamine our awareness of current events, since neither of us was aware that this theft had ever taken place.