This is a difficult book to review. Having read every astronaut biography, I was unsure what to expect, particularly because a "sameness" has crept into so many of these bios: smalltown boy unintentionally develops a love for flying, joins the military in the Cold War years, is captivated by the early Space Race and ends up joining NASA, before struggling to master "astro-politics".
Initially, this book follows a familiar (if increasingly tiresome) theme about childhood and military service before NASA. The difference is the detail with which Carr records some parts of his story. He gives a good account of what it was like moving through the military in the 1950s/1960s.
Likewise the account of the NASA years follows a familiar theme; the difference here being that it is told by one of the astronauts who 'lost the Moon' because of cuts to the later Apollo lunar flights. This is a truly interesting part of the book, and it is the first time this has been covered in an astro-biography. It is, however, quite annoying to see a number of photos of Irwin on the Moon on Apollo 15 with the caption "this might have been Carr, if Apollo 19 had flown" (because 19 was destined for Hadley/Appenine before sites were re-allocated after the cuts).
Carr gives a good perspective on the difference/separation between the Apollo and Skylab programs in the 1969/70 period when, after Apollo 19 was cancelled and he was assigned to Skylab, he realised how little he knew - or had reason to know - about Skylab. Frankly, he had no need to because up until then he was, in his words, a "lunar landing man" focused solely on the lunar program, so to him Skylab was invisible and (although it is not said in so many words) considered less important.
So this book charts Carr's (and his family's) catharsis as he deals with the loss of a Moon mission, and gaining a program and mission that formerly had been furthest from his mind, but for which he becomes intensely proud.
The Skylab chapters are, naturally, the most interesting. Much of the material is drawn from an on-orbit diary maintained during Skylab 4 (reproduced verbatim), which gives an interesting perspective on life onboard Skylab. There have been books covering this sort of material from Mir/ISS (Linenger's "Off the Planet", Foale's (father's) "Waystation to the Stars", and even Burroughs' "Dragonfly"), but not one from Skylab. Of course, I have exorcised from consideration the appallingly bad "Rocketman" (see my review, "Very, Very Disappointing"), which simply does not do justice to Conrad's stint on Skylab 2.
There are interesting contributions from Carr's family members, which give a good insight into life on the homefront, especially for an astronaut on a long-duration mission.
The pity, in one sense, is that Carr's book has been released more or less at the same time as the Outward Odyssey series' "Homesteading Space", with which it will inevitably be compared. So "84 Days" will not have a long window in which to be considered on its own merits before avid readers "move on" not only to the next credible book about the US space program, but one dealing with exactly the same topic.
Even so, Carr's book is an interesting, although not always fascinating, read. It doesn't have the "edge of your seats" captivation of "Carrying the Fire" (Collins) or "All-American Boys" (Cunningham) or "Riding Rockets" (Mullane), but it holds its own, and gives a new(ish) slant on a poorly covered era in the US space program. Parts of it a bit turgid, but other parts are very well done.
It is a worthy read, and it is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone, like me, who has an interest in this subject.
Three stars, although I really, really, really wanted to give it four. (Amazon, can I give it three and a half?)