Pendle, George 1976–
Pendle, George 1976–
Born 1976, in London, England. Education: Attended Oxford University.
Home—New York, NY.
Journalist and writer. Science writer for the Times and the Financial Times.
Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian, Cabinet, and Bidoun. Columnist for Frieze.
For his first two books, journalist and science writer George Pendle provides an earnest biography of a rocket scientist and an imaginary biography of a U.S. president. In Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons, Pendle tells the story of one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and of the Aerojet Engineering Corporation. Parsons died in 1952 in a laboratory explosion, and his obituaries revealed his role as a groundbreaking rocket scientist who worked with numerous other better-known scientists prior to and during World War II. However, as Pendle explains, there was much more to Parsons than rocket science.
In Strange Angel, Pendle connects Parsons's interest and career in rocket science to his attraction to black magic and science fiction. Not only was Parsons on speaking terms with science fiction greats such as Robert Heinlein and lived for a short time with L. Ron Hubbard, who was also a science fiction writer as well as the founder of Scientology, Pendle was a follower of Aleister Crowley, an occultist, mystic, and writer.
"This is a case of truth being stranger than fiction in all it's glory—you really couldn't make this one up,’ wrote Brian Clegg on the Popular Science Web site.
Pendle begins his biography of Parsons with the explosion that caused his death, which was ruled an accident but which some people believed was actually a suicide, since Parsons was an accomplished scientist who was unlikely to have mixed the ingredients that caused the accident. From there, Pendle goes on to explore Parsons's youth in Pasadena, California, where he was a member a wealthy family who lost its fortune in the stock market crash of 1929. Parsons was fifteen at the time and was already pursuing his interest in rocket science via telephone conversations with noted scientist Werner von Braun, who, at the time, was another teenage enthusiast of rocket science. Parsons did not graduate from college but honed his skills in rocket science through experiments and working with makers of explosives, eventually becoming a renowned expert in explosives. Parsons and fellow rocket enthusiasts Edward Forman and Frank Malina formed the Suicide Squad and helped to make rocket science, which many scientists viewed as laughable, a viable area of scientific pursuit. He then went on to work in the military, developing ways to make airplanes take off quickly from shorter runways.
Pendle outlines Parsons's interest in the occult, too, which began before the war as he became interested in Crowley's cult, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). On the University Today Web site, Mark Mortimer noted: ‘Pendle provides all the details of how Parsons took over the local chapter of religious group, the Thelemas [an order of the OTO]. Free love was in vogue as was much alcohol and the occasional ritual midnight mass. With their leader's directive being, ‘Do what thou wilt,’ there seemed little to inhibit participants' actions.’ In addition, Pendle writes about Parsons's brush with communism via his involvement in political meetings at Caltech that were actually held to help recruit people to the local Communist Party. Even though Parsons quit the meetings when he was pressured to join the party, his attendance came up time and time again in his career after he began working on important science projects for the government and was required to have security clearance.
In a review of Strange Angel in Publishers Weekly, a contributor reported that the author ‘offers a fascinating glimpse into a world long past.’ Referring to the biography as ‘an engaging, sympathetic account’ in Skeptical Inquirer, Howard Schneider wrote: ‘The author deftly weaves together the lives of Parsons and his circle; lucid explications of relevant technologies; and the histories of rocketry, Southern California, and other topics."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Pendle's next book, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President, ‘droll, almost instructive and quite entertaining.’ For his ‘biography’ of Fillmore, the thirteenth president of the United States, the author claims to have drawn his material from the recent discovery of fifty-three volumes of Fillmore's journal. In this fictionalized and humorous story of Fillmore's life, Pendle recounts numerous adventures of a man whose presidential accomplishments, according to most historians, were very few, if any. In Pendle's story, however, Fillmore becomes a dashing figure whose accomplishments included everything from saving a woman from a shark attack to performing in minstrel shows. In this tale, Fillmore also turns out to be a genius inventor whose accomplishments include the invention of the rubber band and the ‘Tea-shirt,’ as well as the widely used ‘knock-knock’ joke. Furthermore, Pendle places Fillmore at numerous key historical events in American history, such as the Alamo, where he escaped by wearing a dress and posing as a woman, and Lincoln's assassination, where he unknowingly provides John Wilkes Booth with the gun needed to shoot Lincoln. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author ‘succeeds in amusing readers by mixing the historical and the hysterical.’ Angel Gurria-Quintana, writing in the Financial Times, referred to The Remarkable Millard Fillmore as a ‘stupendously thorough spoof biography."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, fall, 2005, Geoffrey A. Landis, review of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons, p. 724.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July-August, 2005, J.Z. Kiss, review of Strange Angel, p. 2008.
Entertainment Weekly, April 13, 2007, Tim Stack, review of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President, p. 78.
Financial Times, May 19, 2007, Angel Gurria-Quintana, review of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore, p. 40.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2007, review of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore.
MBR Bookwatch, March, 2005, Diane C. Donovan, review of Strange Angel.
New York Times, March 6, 2005, Polly Shulman, review of Strange Angel.
Physics Today, January, 2006, David H. Devorkin, ‘The Era of California's Electric Technoculture,’ review of Strange Angel, p. 57.
Publishers Weekly, November 11, 2002, John F. Schneider, ‘Pendle,’ discusses rights to author's book, p. 14; November 1, 2004, review of Strange Angel, p. 51; January 29, 2007, review of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore, p. 55.
Reason, May, 2005, Brian Doherty, ‘The Magical Father of American Rockerty: Jack Parsons, Burning Out His Fuel Up There Alone,’ review of Strange Angel, p. 64.
Science Books & Films, July-August, 2005, Steven Kilston, review of Strange Angel, p. 154; November-December, 2005, review of Strange Angel, p. 244.
Science News, April 2, 2005, review of Strange Angel, p. 223.
SciTech Book News, March, 2005, review of Strange Angel, p. 149.
Skeptical Inquirer, January 1, 2006, Howard Schneider, ‘Rocketry and Wizardry,’ review of Strange Angel, p. 61.
Frieze Foundation Web site,http://www.friezefoundation.org/ (November 4, 2007), brief profile of George Pendle.
George Pendle Home Page,http://www.georgependle.com (November 4, 2007).
Gothamist,http://gothamist.com/ (September 20, 2007), Ben Kharakh, ‘George Pendle, Author,’ interview with George Pendle.
Naked Scientists,http://www.thenakedscientists.com/ (November 4, 2007), brief profile of George Pendle.
Popular Science Online,http://www.popularscience.co.uk/ (November 4, 2007), Brian Clegg, review of Strange Angel.
University Today Online,http://www.universetoday.com/ (October 31, 2005), Mark Mortimer, review of Strange Angel.