On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon, thus winning the space race and setting a precedent for future NASA missions. The story of the moon and its Apollo programs seems worthy of a tome or two, and as we approach the 50th anniversary of this noble feat this summer, it seems every publisher wants a piece of the moon pie. But should you worry that these 28 titles are redundant grapples for the same space in the market, all targeting the astro-curious, rest assured that there is ample variety: something for everybody. Which one will you choose?
For the Astronaut Fan Club
Whether you’re enchanted with moon pioneers or want to be one yourself, these new books are sure to quench your rocketeer cravings.
Only 24 people have traveled to the moon. They are called the “Eagles.” In The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons from the Men Who Went to the Moon (April 2019), investigative journalist Basil Hero pieces together a collection of wise words from the Eagles by interviewing nine of these surviving astronauts and pulling from previously recorded interviews. Together, this book goes beyond personal histories of becoming astronauts and traveling to the moon. Instead, the Eagles bestow their opinions on topics ranging from how to conquer fear, develop leadership to marriage and religion.
The Apollo Missions: In the Astronauts’ Own Words (September 2019) tells the spectacular story of the Apollo Space Program through the astronauts’ first-person accounts, put into context with commentary by prolific outer space author Rod Pyle. Additionally, the book contains more than 100 images, many rarely seen, drawn from original NASA film.
In Afterglow: Reflecting with the Apollo Astronauts on Their Missions and Lives (April 2019), former docent of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Derek Webber takes the unique approach of presenting interviews both then and later with every man who went to the moon, a combination of research and author-conducted interviews. Covering topics from implications of continued spaceflight to environmental concerns, one of the more surprising revelations found in the book is “the highly diverse natures and motivations of this group of outwardly similar military test pilots who became the voyagers to the Moon,” says Webber. If you think you’ve heard everything the astronauts of the moon have to say, just wait until you read this new book.
For the Earthbound
Interested in the moon landing but afraid of heights? Several new tomes have got you covered.
As we’ve seen, there are plenty of options if you’re looking for reliable accounts and sage advice from the men who went into space, but the moon landing was made possible by a whole slew of men and women whose feet never left the planet. In The Apollo Chronicles: Engineering America’s First Moon Missions (June 2019), we meet the engineers who toiled behind the spotlights from 1958 to 1972. The son of an Apollo engineer, author Brandon R. Brown devotes his writing chops to storytelling and a dramatic tension that will engage even the most technical unsavy and engineerically estranged of readers.
A specific engineering feat is the spacesuit that the Apollo astronauts used, called the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). The story of its invention seemed straightforward for many years, but now we learn that the story has been obscured. Kenneth S. Thomas, author of The Journey to Moonwalking: The People that Enabled Footprints on the Moon (April 2019), says, “I was a spacesuit engineer trying to learn everything I could about the Apollo EMU. Three years into my efforts I discovered that everything I had been told or read about Apollo pressure suit assembly development were either half-truths or lies. My subsequent quarter century quest to find and document the truth resulted in this book.” With a focus on the individuals involved in the spacesuit’s creation, their challenges and their perseverance, this book finally sets the record straight.
In One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon (June 2019), journalist Charles Fishman expands the behind-the-scenes story beyond engineers to include everyone from legendary digital pioneer Charles Draper who created the two computers aboard Apollo 11, to the factories where hundreds of women weaved computer programs with copper wire. The premise is a dramatic story where Kennedy’s goal to land on the moon by 1970 was, as the subtitle suggests, impossible. The marketing copy says, “When Kennedy announced his goal, no one knew how to navigate to the Moon. No one knew how to build a rocket big enough to fly to the Moon. No one knew how to build a computer small enough to put on that rocket. No one knew how to feed astronauts in space, and no one knew how astronauts would even use the bathroom in space. And NASA had just nine years to make it happen.”
For the Photographer
When I go on vacation, I debate over what kind of camera to take with me. What are the properties of my cameras vs. the conditions of my destination? Now imagine having to do that for a trip 230,000 miles away. What kind of camera is worthy to capture Neil Armstrong’s “one small step”? The answer is the Hasselblad 500EL, as chronicled in the new book Hasselblad & the Moon Landing (April 2019). Author Deborah Ireland tells us that “the first Hasselblad camera [was] designed for use by airmen wearing thick leather gloves, so it was a natural camera for use by astronauts.” This and the fact that the camera was ideal for shooting outdoors without studio lights, as discovered by a fashion photographer, make it the perfect camera for the lunar missions. And this book is one of the most unique stories on this list.
A companion to The Sun: NASA Images from Space (June 2019), The Moon: NASA Images from Space (August 2019) by graphic artist Beth Alesse boasts being a “comprehensive” illustrated collection that includes photographs from the aforementioned Hasselblad, explanatory illustrations and diagrams, and maps of the moon’s distinct features. Going beyond what it says on the cover, the image sources come from not only NASA but also the European Space Agency and other international space programs.
J. L. Pickering has the world’s largest private collection of U.S. human space flight photos, with more than 100,000 color and B&W prints and images. His new book, Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments (April 2019), showcases a wealth of rarely seen and newly discovered photographs from the 1969 moon landing: articles from the NASA archive and from his own collection. A sampling: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin training for the flight; stages of the Saturn V rocket arriving at the Kennedy Space Center for assembly; spectators flock to Cape Canaveral; Armstrong and Aldrin step out of the lunar module Eagle onto the surface of the moon; command module Columbia splashes down in the Pacific Ocean–and much, much more.
For Visual Learners
Whether you’re a child whose reading level isn’t advanced enough to read a thorough history, or you’re an artist who appreciates the illustrative voice, or whether you learn better through photographs and schematics, these new illustrated books will transport you.
Rare memorabilia nerd? Science author Rod Pyle spent years combing NASA archives and private collections for memorabilia from the Apollo 11 mission. First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience (April 2019) brings us rarely seen archival images, as well as photo-compositions previously not available online, here for the first time color corrected and assembled into their originally intended montage format. In addition, the book is foreworded by Buzz Aldrin and includes never-before-published interviews with the children of Aldrin and of Armstrong.
In That’s One Small Stamp for a Man: The Philatelic Journey of Apollo 11, Richard Weaver showcases more than 250 stamps from around the world that commemorate man’s first landing on the moon. Weaver says, “Even countries like Iran and Afghanistan, who historically have had difficult relationships with the U.S., honored the mission with stamps that millions of people could use. It goes to show that it’s possible to put politics aside and be proud of achievements regardless of nationality.” Get a taste of the samplings here.
Not a memorabilia nerd? That’s okay, we’ve got some infographics you’re going to love! Apollo: A Graphic Guide to Mankind’s Greatest Mission (May 2019) is a collection of moon mission infographics by Royal-Air-Force-technician-turned-designer Zack Scott. Unlike previous books on this topic, Scott illustrates the tiniest details of how man came to walk on the moon, paying particular attention to many of the lesser known facts about the mission: astronaut weights, mission insignia and spacecraft call signs, fuel consumption stats, and splashdown sites around the world.
Both authored and illustrated by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight (June 2019) tells the story behind Apollo 11 in graphic novel style. From 1662 London when lunar science was in its infancy to Cape Canaveral in the 1950s to the surface of the moon in 1969, this graphic history is broad in scope and dedicated to storytelling. The illustrator has an appealing style and makes excellent use of color through the eras he depicts, especially the mid-60s Kodachrome palette. You can view some of his work here.
In this new edition of the Haynes Manual on the Saturn V rocket, the Command and Service Modules, and the Lunar Module, NASA Mission AS-506 Apollo 11 Owners’ Workshop Manual: 50th Anniversary of 1st Moon Landing – 1969 (June 2019) gives both the casual reader and the tech nerds a history of Apollo 11 with detailed technical drawings and renderings of all the hardware that was necessary to get astronauts to the moon. In addition to the hardware itself, the manual illustrates procedures for launch, ‘flying’ the Saturn V and the ‘LEM’, moon walking, and earth re-entry.
Also available in June, a companion volume: NASA Moon Missions Operations Manual: 1969 – 1972 (Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17)
For Readers of Politics and Controversy
Unlike interview collections that simply champion space heroes and the scientific feats that allowed them to achieve these missions, Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings (May 2019) offers multiple sides of the story, from technological and political progress, to criticism from both sides of the political spectrum on the expenses, to the conspiracy theorists who deny the moon landing altogether. Publishers Weekly‘s starred review says, “Space Age aficionados, political junkies, and general readers will find both the unexpected and the fascinating in Launius’s scrupulously researched account.”
For the Psychologist
Shoot for the Moon: Achieve the Impossible with the Apollo Mindset (January, UK) is more of a self-help book but a self-help book written by psychologist (and magician) Richard Wiseman. I’m a big fan of Wiseman, myself. He was interested in learning why, from a psychological perspective, Mission Control was such a hotbed of success. His book, a guide to success as learned from the inspirational story of the moon landings, covers topics such as the mantra that ensured the world’s largest rocket got off the ground (“It won’t fail because of me”) and how you can develop the “attitude that gives you altitude.” Wiseman interviews key controllers in Mission Control, now in their seventies and eighties, to inform his advice.
For the Adventurer
Much like the books in the next section, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 (March 2019) tells the behind the scenes story of the Apollo landing, including the missions that led up to it and all the folks that made the visit to the moon possible. But this one, penned by James Donovan, an author with a bibliography of battle histories, is marketed to thrill seekers. The descriptive copy reads, “From the shock of Sputnik and the heart-stopping final minutes of John Glenn’s Mercury flight to the deadly whirligig of Gemini 8, the doomed Apollo 1 mission, and that perilous landing on the Sea of Tranquility–when the entire world held its breath while Armstrong and Aldrin battled computer alarms, low fuel, and other problems– James Donovan tells the whole story.” If you’re skeptical in any way, Shoot for the Moon boasts starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, too.
For American History Buffs
Drawing on new primary source material and major interviews with many of the surviving figures who were key to America’s success in the space race, bestselling author Douglas Brinkley brings this fascinating history of Apollo to life as never before. American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race (April 2019) is a portrait of the brilliant men and women who made this giant leap possible, the technology that enabled us to propel men beyond earth’s orbit to the moon and return them safely, and the geopolitical tensions that spurred Kennedy to commit himself fully to this audacious dream. Brinkley’s ensemble cast of New Frontier characters include Wernher von Braun, John Glenn, and Lyndon Johnson.
Vast in scope, Chasing the Moon: The People, the Politics, and the Promise That Launched America into the Space Age (June 2019) tells the history of the Apollo program not only through astronauts and engineers but also cultural influencers like sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. Publishers Weekly says it’s “a solid popular history that personalizes the race for the moon through the stories of some fascinating people.” Unlike most books on this list, it comes with a six-hour companion documentary from PBS’s American Experience series, which airs in July and is directed and produced by the author, Robert Stone.
Eight Years to the Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission (July 2019) is a transportive history of Apollo 11. Science journalist Nancy Atkinson interviewed more than 40 people connected to the mission, resulting in immersive firsthand accounts from Henry Pohl (director of engineering at Johnson Space Center), Glynn Lunney and Gerry Griffin (Apollo flight directors), Frank Hughes (lead test engineer for the Apollo command and lunar module simulators), Bill Widnall (MIT computer expert), and many others. Told chronologically and broken down by year, this book also includes personal behind-the-scenes photographs.
One of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Norman Mailer was hired by LIFE magazine in 1969 to cover the moon shot. He enhanced his reportage in the book, Of a Fire on the Moon. Equally adept at examining the science of space travel and the psychology of the men involved, Mailer provides provocative and trenchant insights into this epoch-making event. His book is excerpted in Norman Mailer: MoonFire (June 2019). With a new introduction by Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin), this 50th anniversary edition is illustrated with various photos and maps sourced from NASA, magazines, and private collections, as well as post-flight interviews with astronauts.
In The Apollo Missions: The Incredible Story of the Race to the Moon (June 2019), former NASA space systems program engineer Dr. David Baker reveals what happened behind the scenes of the Apollo missions, including the development of the Service and Lunar modules, mission preparation, and how man made an indelible impact on the moon’s surface by leaving bacteria to collect data. This book is thoroughly illustrated with photographs, illustrations and diagrams, fact charts, maps, and more.
For World History Buffs
If you’re interested in lunar travel but aren’t limited to interest in the American space program, don’t worry. There are also books that go beyond Apollo.
From National Geographic, Moon Rush: The New Space Race (May 2019) details the past and future of the space race. While it does include never before told stories of Apollo Missions, the Russian and Chinese space programs are prominent in this history, too. Then to the future: author and space.com columnist Leonard David squares up the Apollo program against our new space trajectory, efforts like Moon Express, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Google’s XPRIZE. Do we now have the pressure of national unease, the sufficient base of technology, the large reservoir of skilled workers, the articulate and devoted government, the large reserve of funding, and the competent/courageous team leaders that they had when we first landed on the moon? Let’s find out.
In what Roger Highfield calls, “A hymn to the Moon,” the Economist‘s The Moon: A History for the Future (June 2019) is a poetic history told by journalist Oliver Morton, probably the only author on this list with an asteroid named after them. While the book certainly includes broad interest for moon watchers, such as details of the lunar cycle, the book largely focuses on the moon’s relationship to human affairs, from Galileo to future space travel based on modern robotics science.
For the Gender Studies Student
The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage (September 2019) is a celebration of the female intellectual giants who have moon craters named after them: Challenger astronaut Judith Arlene Resnik, Alexandria mathematician Hypatia, Nobel Prize winning Marie Curie, astronomer Agnes Clerke, and so on. It is also a meditation on the gap between the number of women who have this honor and the number of men: 28 women out of 1,586 named craters. If you have more of a scientific bent, you’ll find in this book each crater detailed, photographed, and mapped, as well as an introduction describing the formation of the moon. You will not get this interesting weave of history, science, and gender studies from any other book on this list.
For the “Lunatic”
Maybe you’re excited for all the moon books coming out not because you’re particularly interested in space travel but have an interest in the moon more from an astronomy or mythology level.
The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor (April 2019) covers the history, science, art, and legend of our moon. Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock delves into beliefs held by ancient civilizations, the technology that allowed for the first moon landing, a brief history of moongazing, and how the moon has influenced culture throughout the years. Then, she takes us to the future, analyzing the pros and cons of continued space travel and exploration. Throughout the book are sidebars, graphs, and charts to enhance the facts as well as black-and-white illustrations of the moon and stars
Astrobiologist Dr. David Warmflash has chosen 100 milestones in the history of the moon. He unfolds them chronologically in the new illustrated tome, Moon: An Illustrated History: From Ancient Myths to the Colonies of Tomorrow (May 2019), part of Sterling’s Illustrated Histories series. While the moon landing gets a look in, this book takes a broad scope, from the moon’s formation 4.5 billion years ago to the development of telescopes to Jules Verne’s role in inspiring Astronautics. Without being technical, this book is a good fit for anyone interested in the invention booms surrounding space science.
Why have there been no further human missions to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972? Returning People to the Moon After Apollo: Will It Be Another Fifty Years? (July 2019) assesses the legacy of the Apollo missions based on several decades of space developments since the program’s end. The question of why we haven’t sent humans back to the moon is explored through a multidisciplinary lens that weaves together technological and historical perspectives. The nine manned Apollo missions, including the six that landed on the moon, are described here by former NASA contractor and Hubble ESA program manager Pat Norris. The final section of the book provides a comprehensive assessment of today’s programs and current plans for sending humans to the moon.
Did I forget your book on this list? Email me.
You did it! 25, that’s a lot.
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I thought I had a pretty good handle on the books about the moon landings. Until I read your article! Thanks for the list and the notes about each book.
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What a wonderful run-down, not only for curious readers but for authors as well. It’s fascinating to see what else is coming out. My cordial hat tip on the “moon pie” reference, by the way. 🙂
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What a wonderful rundown of these titles, not just for space- and history-curious readers, but for all the authors as well. It’s fascinating to see the range and all in one tidy place. My cordial hat tip for the “moon pie” reference! 🙂
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The women of the Moon is a wonderful book. I read the Spanish version and it is so cute.
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