I’ve always had an interest in space and spaceflight, and the Apollo programme is a particular favourite subject of mine. For unknown reasons I was struck with an urge to revisit the topic and I started by reading two wonderful books, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and Moondust by Andrew Smith.
A Man on the Moon is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject, and over the years since I first read it I have recommended it to many people. (Incidentally, I lost my old copy of it at some point, or more likely lent it to someone and forgot to get it back, so I had to buy a new one to read it again; I was more than happy to buy it a second time as it is well worth it).
It is quite a long book, which means that there is plenty of time to explore the whole Apollo programme from start to finish, and it is a really an in depth exploration of the subject, albeit mainly with the focus on the astronauts rather than the engineering side of things. In researching the book, Chaikin had conducted many detailed interviews with the astronauts, their families, NASA workers and so on. This is evident as he gives us a very clear insight into the thoughts and experiences of the astronauts and others involved, as well as a bit of background on how many of them ended up as astronauts. He also doesn’t gloss over the technical details, but presents them in a very easy-to-understand way, which is still very readable (though anyone wanting a lot of technical facts will be disappointed). Overall, the whole book is remarkably well-written and I found it as compelling to read as a good novel.
Moondust is another one that I read before, and felt the need to read again. It is a very different book from the other one. In a way, it kind of picks up where Chaikin’s book left off, as the focus is on the astronauts and what happened to them after Apollo. It is kind of an example of ‘New Journalism’ I suppose, in that the author is very much part of the book, which focuses on his attempts to track down the remaining ‘moonwalkers’ after he realised that of the twelve men, only nine are still alive. As well as interviews with the astronauts about their experiences on the moon and how it affected their later lives, Smith also explores more of the historical period and how Apollo influenced our culture as well. It is a very different take on the subject than Chaikin or any other books I’ve read before, and it is extremely interesting in a different way.
Both of these books are excellent, both very well-written and captivating. For a more complete treatment of the topic I’d have to recommend A Man on the Moon, it really is the best book on Apollo out there that I know of. But Moondust is also highly recommended as presenting a different take on the subject, and it complements the other book really well. I could spend ages trying to explain what it is I find so fascinating about Apollo, but both of these books do it far better than I could. It is such an interesting topic, and I’d really recommend these books for anyone who shares my interest.