Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sex on the Moon, by Ben Mezrich

Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History, by Ben Mezrich

In 2002, Thad Roberts stole of some of the most rare and valuable items anywhere: moon rocks. Told in Mezrich's fictional non-fiction style, this is an entertaining romp telling how a brilliant kid with the world at his feet ended up in prison. Roberts is a fascinating person; raised in a strict Mormon household, when going on his mission trip he and his companions all told each other they'd already had sex. Roberts went one step further, though, and as he had been taught, confessed to his mission president. Instead of absolution, he was abruptly thrown out of the mission and the church, and after being returned home thrown out of his family as well. At nineteen years old, he was on his own with no support structure. From this inauspicious beginning, he reinvented himself as a scholar (majoring in geology, astronomy, and physics at the University of Utah) and an adrenalin junkie (becoming a pilot and a certified scuba instructor, and bicycling across the country), and eventually accepted into one of the most prestigious student programs in the country at NASA.

Why would such a confident and successful person commit such a public crime? The difficulty of the problem appealed to his intellectual side and the audacity of the act appealed to his daredevil side, but that is simply what made the act successful. What set Roberts off was when a scientist referred to the rocks as trash because they'd been outside of controlled environments and thus contaminated. Being a boy who had been disposed of by his religion and his family for being worthless, Roberts has a unique view on finding value where others do not; this view of the world is what led him to collect things he saw as unwanted. At Utah he stole "trash" fossils from the geology department for the same reason.

Doing a bit of research shows that Mezrich amalgamated several characters and there is a lot of dialog that couldn't possibly be authentic, explaining why this often reads more like a screenplay than a research paper. The gist of the story is accurate, though, and I learned quite a bit about a unique pop culture event—the theft of extraterrestrial material. While Sex on the Moon may be more "based on a true story" than "narrative nonfiction" it is still highly entertaining.

First Sentence:
There was something vaguely menacing about the folders.

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