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Unreal Estate – The Men Who Sold the Moon
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Shadows of Medusa
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Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold the Moon
By Virgiliu Pop
Reviewed by James E. Dunstan*

If nothing else, Virgiliu Pop's new book Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold the Moon, proves that P.T. Barnum's famous adage, "there's a sucker born every minute," is not confined to the surface of planet Earth. As Pop demonstrates, the gullibility of homo sapiens spans both space and time. The title of the book clearly harkens back to Robert Heinlein's The Man Who Sold the Moon, and, indeed, Pop does a wonderful job of interweaving the cultural impacts of science fiction and space exploration in the 1950’s on the never ending lemming-like march to be the first one smart enough to lay claim to the Moon and beyond. The Politically Correct police, therefore, will have to find another "nit" to "pick" with this book for its gender exclusivity (indeed, women "star" just as prominently as men in this saga).

Pop's research is absolutely stunning, dredging up and debunking literally hundreds of claims of priority to space property ownership. Set up roughly chronologically, Pop nonetheless sometimes eschews a chronological motif when it suits him, making the reader's head hurt from the temporal whiplash. But that's fine, because the book constantly causes the reader's head to shake back and forth in disbelief of how many people over the past several hundred years honestly believe they've lodged legitimate claims to the Moon and other celestial bodies.

My main complaint with the book is that the legal rational and underpinnings of space property rights comes at the very end. A reader not steeped in the esoterics of Space Law may find the countless stories amusing, but the book would be so much more fun for the average reader if they knew going in how ludicrous these claims are, and could instantly point out the intellectual back-flips some of these celestial hacks have tried to foist on humanity (such as registering a "claim" in a local county assessor's office and then arguing that the fact that a county clerk accepted and filed the "claim" was a legal determination of the validity of the claim).

But best of all is Pop's treatment of the current king of space property hucksters, Dennis Hope and his Lunar Embassy, now claiming millions of lunar plots sold. The title of the chapter says it all: "Dennis-Come-Lately." Nice to know that Hope's gambit is not only legally specious, but he's been far from original in either his claims, or the subterfuge used to try and justify them.

Pop's book is a joy for anyone who has ever looked up at the Moon and thought, "I wonder if anyone could ever own that," and should be a required reading for anyone who has ever added a six-pack to the mix and thought, "maybe I should claim it for myself."


*Jim Dunstan is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Garvey Schubert Barer and the author of over a dozen articles on Space Law, including "Toward a Unified Theory of Space Property Rights" in Space: The Free-Market Frontier, E. Hudgins, Editor (CATO Institute 2002).
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