I am one of the estimated 20% of Earth’s population who were alive when humans first walked on the moon. I vividly remember that Monday where we stayed home from school and our neighbours gathered in hushed excitement to watch the moon landing on our grainy black and white TV.
Later, I stood in our yard and gazed up at the moon in the afternoon sky, discussing with my brothers how strange it was that men were up there at that moment. I was hopelessly awestruck, my mind blown. 50 years on, I cannot escape the power of what was one of the most amazing events of my life. Over the decades I have read dozens of books on the moon landing and here I have selected my picks. I haven’t physically reached the moon (yet) but these books take me there in other ways.
These are just a few of the great books you’ll find in our Shoot for the Moon showcase, so be sure to check that out too!
Apollo 11: The Inside Story
by David Whitehouse
If you want an enjoyably and readable digest of the space story – how the space race happened, how rocket technology evolved, the US-Soviet rivalry from Sputnik to Soyuz, the astronauts’ demanding training, and the resultant triumph of the moon landing – then grab this book.
Whitehouse has spent over 35 years on the case, interviewing the politicians, the engineers, all 12 moon-walkers, and many more. He brings to light newly-unclassified details on the epic fails and near misses along the way, the secret deals and personal slights, and the sacrifices made by the cosmonauts. This is a thoroughly fresh overview, written by a respected journalist for New Scientist and a veteran space insider. Apollo 11: The Inside Story perfectly frames the idea and the achievement within the times, and captures the many people that made it happen, placing the Russian and American teams in equal perspective at last.
Buy it here.
Carrying the Fire
by Michael Collins
The New York Times says that “this book is regarded by many as the best account of what it is like to be an astronaut.” Certainly, it is the best by any Apollo crew member. In Carrying the Fire, Collins enthusiastically shares his unique experience, imbued with a sense of wonder and gratitude that is deeply satisfying. Portrayed as “the loneliest man in the universe,” he circled the moon in the Command Module whilst Armstrong and Aldrin landed, but he was actually contented and awestruck to have had the role, too busy in fact to be lonely. His honest story is fascinating and heartfelt, and he has wonderful skills of expression. It has been said of Collins that, “if he ever said anything uninteresting, then no one was around to hear it.” If you read just one astronaut’s memoir, make it this one.
Buy it here.
A Man on the Moon
by Andrew Chaikin
Man on the Moon is a passionate and personal book about all the 24 members of the Apollo missions and their achievements and challenges, but it is mostly focused on how they felt being in the centre of all of this drama. Chaikin interviewed the crews over hundreds of hours and he brings out the fears and pride of these men, and that of their supportive family members. This is the closest you’ll get to an oral history on Apollo.
It is inspiring stuff to be part of the greatest adventure of humankind, but there is also a toll to pay. Many astronauts would later suffer from what Michael Collins called ‘earthly ennui’ and struggled through broken personal relationships. Chaikin also interviews ex-wives and mission control teamsters, deftly balancing the people and their situations. Containing riveting accounts of technical malfunctions and fuel shortages that will have you on the edge of your seat, A Man on the Moon is a vivid and emotive take on the human side of the moon landing story, and is essential reading.
Buy it here.
The Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration
by John Logsdon
This brilliant anthology of source material collects the essential moments of NASA’s history, from speeches to interviews, and from scientific documents to interview transcriptions. It carries from the momentous (John Glenn’s memoir of his first orbit of Earth), to the quirky (the astronauts’ customs declarations for moon rocks), and also the sobering (Nixon’s drafted speech in case of an Apollo 11 tragedy and Jim Lovell’s account of Apollo 13’s failure).
Bookended by Wernher von Braun’s plea to reach for the Moon, and Elon Musk’s recent call to go to Mars, this is a rich treasure trove drawing widely from the famous to many newly revealed or declassified sources. Well-read space nerds and history buffs will find astonishing new material here. Others will enjoy the continuity of ambition and yearning across decades, in a neat montage of history. Logsdon is an official NASA historian with unrivalled access.
Buy it here.
Check out our Shoot for the Moon showcase!