This book is the most complete history of the Saturn launch vehicle family available. Author Roger Bilstein wrote this as an official history for NASA in the late 1970s, and it was originally published in 1980. This edition is paperbound and is published by the University Press of Florida. I was tempted to give the book five stars, but ultimately two things lowered it to four. First, the illustrations are quite poor. All are black and white and most are public domain images that are of low quality. Many are taken from much larger sources and compressed so that the legends and details are virtually or completely impossible to discern. There are many better illustrations available, and there is no reason that a modern reprint of this book should have such inferior illustrations, especially when such complex (and difficult to visualize) machinery is being discussed. The second and more minor reason for the loss of a star is due to the extremely annoying use of metric units (newtons, etc.) throughout the book, which was a misdirected Carter administration whim in vogue when this was written. The problem is not with the units themselves, but rather that all the original units the program worked with were English, and after conversion the numbers are extremely cumbersome to digest and work with: as an example I opened the text randomly to page 119 (which deals with F-1 thrust chamber and furnace brazing,) and found this example, which is typical, but not the worst: "the F-1 was designed to burn its propellants at approximately 79000 newtons per square centimeter (1150 pounds per square inch) at the injector face...." Given that virtually all other sources (and all original sources) cite English units, this is a needless complication that should have been revised.
Having noted the negatives, this book has a lot of positives: it has extremely detailed history on all the Saturn program iterations, including the often neglected Saturn 1 and 1B models. It also discusses proposed but unflown Saturn derivatives, and of course the mighty Saturn V. The book presents a background on previous programs and key personnel and developmental and design choices and rationale; the discussion of the pros and cons of cryogenic propellants in various applications is especially well written. Following this the different models of Saturn vehicle are detailed to include all stages, engines, systems, and Instrument Units (which were fairly similar throughout the program.)
There is enormous effort expended to detail the histories of the various stages and the individual histories of the individual rocket engines built. Several missions are examined in great detail, most notably AS-506, which was, of course, Apollo 11. After the discussion of the technical details of the Saturns, Bilstein presents an excellent examination of the logistics of Apollo and the management techniques used to oversee the design, construction, checkout, and launch of the vehicles. The book concludes with a treasure trove of appendices full of technical and other data, which serious space historians will find of enormous assistance.
This is overall a great book, and I recommend it highly to anyone serious about space history. It is not casual reading for most people, but is extremely well detailed, and were it not for the illustration issues (and metric units, to a lesser extent) this book would easily have been awarded five stars.