On the Cutting Edge: Tales of a Cold War Engineer at the Dawn of the Nuclear, Guided Missile, Computer and Space Ages

  • Published

On the Cutting Edge: Tales of a Cold War Engineer at the Dawn of the Nuclear, Guided Missile, Computer and Space Ages by Robert F. Brodsky. Richard Altschuler and Associates, 2006, 220 pp.

In On the Cutting Edge, Dr. Robert Brodsky compiles stories from his long career as an aeronautical engineer, covering a half century that spans the Cold War and includes the “glory days” of engineering in the 1960s. Readers learn that Brodsky had a hand in improving the aerodynamic stability of atomic bombs, solving guidance and control problems on Navy missiles, and designing satellites and a moon rover, among other accomplishments. His account of the time he devoted to writing proposals, managing departments, and leading research and development efforts also offers insight into the culture of large defense contractors. Furthermore, Brodsky touches on giving testimony as an expert witness in aircraft accident cases and describes his academic roles, teaching courses as well as developing the first degree program in astronautical engineering. Students of Cold War history will recognize many projects, weapon systems, and facilities—perhaps, as I did, dog-earing certain pages for additional research.

Brodsky’s doctorate in engineering (he performed calculations for his dissertation on ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer!) prepared him well for the interesting—and, by his account, very satisfying—career that lay ahead. He writes from firsthand experience in hands-on engineering as well as business development and management roles. But readers shouldn’t anticipate anything dry and stuffy; Dr. Brodsky has a sense of humor, and it shows in his writing. He also simplifies technical matters, so a non-rocket-scientist can follow his points easily.

He includes his failures as well as successes, laying out events and results, good or bad. In this regard, the book contains subtle lessons in leadership, management, and problem solving—a nice departure from polished biographies that read like award nominations. Brodsky occasionally drifts from science to the mundane (a rant on an airline’s lack of service, for example), but not often.

History-minded readers with an interest in air and space topics will enjoy On the Cutting Edge. Rather than including complete details of any given program or product, it features an insider’s perspective on many events and developments—some famous, some not. Those who read about military and space technology for fun—not just because it’s good for them—will enjoy this book!

Scott D. Murdock

Buckley AFB, Colorado

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."