50 years after first lunar landing, Apollo moonshots inspire a new blast of books

Moon books
Books about the moon can help get you in the proper mood to see the “Destination Moon” exhibit at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

In the 50 years since Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left humanity’s first bootprint on the moon, that “one small step” has launched one giant load of books.

Basketfuls of books about space are now hitting store shelves — not only to mark the golden anniversary of that first moon landing, but also to provide the context for a renewed focus on lunar exploration.

Whether you’re looking for an Apollo book you can read to your kids, an award-winning sci-fi novel about alternate space history, or up-to-date management tips gleaned from the early space effort, we’ve got you covered. Here are 18 recently published (or updated) books that are well-suited for this year’s summer of space, plus a couple of bonus picks.

All about Apollo

Nonfiction authors have been recounting the tale of America’s moonshots since “Of a Fire on the Moon” and “The Right Stuff,” but these books bring fresh perspective to the decades-old saga. We’ve also included a couple of classics that are getting fresh exposure for the 50th anniversary.

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race: Why did we choose to go to the moon? Historian Douglas Brinkley tells the story of the space race with President Kennedy at its center. The focus isn’t so much on the astronauts’ “right stuff,” but on the politics that motivated the moonshots — yielding insights that could apply to the current space policy debate as well.

Apollo book
“Apollo: A Graphic Guide to Mankind’s Greatest Mission.” (Abrams Image)

Apollo: A Graphic Guide to Mankind’s Greatest Mission: In this compact volume, designer Zack Scott provides a visual tour of the Apollo missions in muted shades of brown and blue, black and gray. It’s chock-full of facts and figures, plus infographics that give you a better sense of where America’s moon explorers went, and how they got there. Bonus pick: There’s also a graphic novel about the first moon mission, titled “Apollo.”

First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience: Looking for an Apollo coffee-table book that’s more than just pretty pictures? Rod Pyle combines the iconic images of the Space Age with facsimiles of historic documents (including the statement that President Richard Nixon would have issued if the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t survive). Pyle weaves a narrative that takes the Apollo 11 story up to the present, supplemented by moonwalker Buzz Aldrin’s foreword.

One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon: Charles Fishman’s take on the Apollo tale devotes a healthy share of the spotlight to the social context for the first mission to the moon, and the folks behind the scenes who made the “impossible mission” possible. Fishman will talk about his book and Apollo 11 at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 p.m. June 28.

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon: We’re already past the 50th anniversary of 1968’s round-the-moon voyage, but it’s still worth taking note of Robert Kurson’s book, which has just come out in paperback. Apollo 8 was arguably the mission that put America on track to win the Space Race. The tale isn’t as well-known as the Apollo 11 saga, however, and that unfamiliarity adds to the novelistic appeal of “Rocket Men.”

Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11: If you’re looking for inside stories about the buildup and execution of the Apollo 11 mission, Wild West historian James Donovan brings the goods. “Shoot for the Moon” scored a priceless book blurb from none other than Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins, who said, “This is the best book on Apollo that I have ever read.”

Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys: I’m assuming that Collins was too modest to tout his Apollo-centric autobiography, “Carrying the Fire,” which was first published in 1974 and is being reissued with an updated preface for Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary. Bonus picks: For previously published perspectives on Apollo, check out “First Man,” James R. Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong; “No Dream Is Too High,” Buzz Aldrin’s latest memoir; and “A Man on the Moon,” Andrew Chaikin’s classic history of Project Apollo (with a new 50th-anniversary afterword).

Mostly about the moon

These books that take a wider-angle view of the moon itself, while touching more tangentially on the Apollo effort.

“Moon: An Illustrated History.” (Sterling)

Moon: An Illustrated History: Astrobiologist David Warmflash organizes his review of 100 milestones in lunar history based on chronology, page by page, starting 4.5 million years ago with the moon’s formation and ending in anticipation of a “Moon Village” by 2044. With 100 illustrations, the book would fit right in on a coffee table but is compact enough to sit on a nightstand.

The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor: After laying out the basic facts about the moon in astronomy and geology, this handbook by British space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock focuses on observing the moon and understanding its place in the world’s cultures — including art, poems and folk tales about the moon.

To the moon and beyond

Learn how the Apollo legacy lives on through new space initiatives.

“Space 2.0: How Private Spaceflight, a Resurgent NASA and International Partners Are Creating a New Space Age.” (BenBella Books)

Space 2.0: How Private Spaceflight, a Resurgent NASA and International Partners Are Creating a New Space Age: In this survey of the new space frontier, Rod Pyle turns his attention to the leaders of the commercial space industry, including billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk. “Space 2.0” also tracks the resurgence of White House interest in missions to the moon, as well as China’s moon ambitions and the thorny question of space property rights.

The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility: Rocket scientist Robert Zubrin is the president of the Mars Society, but he has a plan for exploring and settling the moon as well as a plan for the Red Planet. In fact, it seems that he has a plan for everything — including mining asteroids, colonizing the outer solar system and sending “Noah’s Ark Eggs” to other star systems. The last 85 pages serve as a manifesto of sorts, answering the question “Why go to space?”

Moon Rush: The New Space Race: Award-winning space journalist Leonard David covers lunar science as well as the other motivations to go to the moon. He also surveys past and future moon missions, including SpaceX’s plan for a round-the-moon mission and Blue Origin’s vision for lunar settlement. In addition to a foreword by Buzz Aldrin, there’s an afterword by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the last person alive to set foot on the moon. David will be giving a lecture and signing books at the Museum of Flight at 2 p.m. June 1.

Space tales for kids

The past, present and future of space exploration, told in terms that kids can understand. Age recommendations are provided by the publishers.

“Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.” (Simon Schuster)

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11: On one level, Brian Floca’s “Moonshot” is a picture book suitable for reading to the little one on your lap. But there aren’t many books for 4-year-olds with detailed diagrams showing how a Saturn V rocket is put together. As children grow, they’re likely to get more out of the story. This 50th-anniversary edition of a book originally published in 2009 has been expanded to include more about the astronauts’ experiences during the mission, and about the people behind the scenes who helped make Apollo a success. (Ages 4 and up.)

The Space Race: The Journey to the Moon and Beyond: Science journalist Sarah Cruddas leaves no stone unturned in this survey of the world’s space efforts. There are special shoutouts to the space program’s women trailblazers, and you’ll even find a spread about the billionaire rivalry between SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos. Cruddas has scheduled an appearance at the Museum of Flight on June 23. (Ages 6 to 9.)

Hey-ho, to Mars We’ll Go: A Space-Age Version of ‘The Farmer in the Dell’: A sing-along book about Mars exploration? Believe it! Author Susan Lendroth teams up with illustrator Bob Kolar on a colorful book that offers new verses to the classic “Farmer in the Dell,” starting with “The rocket’s on the pad.” But wait, there’s more: Each page has a snippet of prose that explains the science behind the children’s verse in kid-friendly language. (Ages 4 to 8.)

Space with a twist

Out of this world, and out of the ordinary.

“The Calculating Stars.” (Tor)

The Calculating Stars: The first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Lady Astronaut” trilogy starts with the science-fiction premise that a catastrophic cosmic impact forces humanity to make the leap into space, starting in the 1950s — with a woman emerging as a leading light. This month the novel won a Nebula Award.

Heroes of the Space Age: The third book on this list by overachieving author Rod Pyle serves as a “Profiles in Courage” for the space set, focusing on the life stories of eight American and Russian pioneers. Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are on the list, along with legendary flight director Gene Kranz, but there are also lesser-known figures such as Apollo 12’s Pete Conrad, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton.

Moonshot: What Landing a Man on the Moon Teaches Us About Collaboration, Creativity and the Mind-set for Success: Psychologist Richard Wiseman turns the lessons of Project Apollo into a personal development manual, complete with quizzes and exercises. (Spoiler alert: Failure is an option.) If you’re a space fan in the startup world, this one’s for you.

Do you have favorites to add to an Apollo reading list? Feel free to pass along your recommendations as comments below.

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