June 2021: Bill
Hello, folks! Space geek Bill here. My Take Ten showcases some of my favorite books about the United States space program. I have been a space nerd since I was 10 years old, and I have read literally a ton of space books over the years (no, really, they'd probably add up to about 2,000 pounds), so it was difficult to limit my favorites to so few. I’ve listed them in historically chronological order.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The definitive history of the early days of the heroes known as the Mercury 7. This book was so good that they made a horrible movie from it. My only criticism is his treatment of Gus Grissom. Still, anybody wanting to know about the early space program must read this book.
The All-American Boys by Walter Cunningham
Cunningham wrote the first autobiography that depicted astronauts as flawed human beings. In-fighting within NASA and the astronaut corps, marital infidelity that fame afforded them, and sham marriages are all recounted. These details somehow make their accomplishments more remarkable
Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey by Michael Collins
Considered by many to be the best autobiography of any astronaut, this book describes Collins’ life from the early days to his historic place on the Apollo 11 crew. I like to contemplate just how he felt on the far side of the moon, cut off from communicating with his crewmates or with mission control for 30 minutes out of each lunar orbit, truly alone.
Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger
Lovell was the Commander of the most famous "failure" in space flight history. "Houston, we've had a problem" is still used as a cliché today. The story of NASA's "successful” failure is made even more poignant by Lovell's honest, sincere retelling of it.
A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
The best account of the entire Apollo Program, this book picks up where The Right Stuff left off. In-depth interviews with many of the people involved provide an immediacy that can still be felt.
The Apollo Chronicles: Engineering America’s First Moon Missions by Brandon R. Brown
This book tells the story of the people in the space program you’ve never heard about: the engineers who designed and built everything necessary to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.
Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz
Let's talk about another important part of the space program: the flight controllers. Gene Kranz, thanks to his depiction by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13, is probably the most famous of these. His book, of course, covers his part in that famous mission, but it also provides insight into just what the job entails.
Apollo to the Moon: A History in 50 Objects by Teasel Muir-Harmony
By choosing familiar and not so familiar artifacts, the author gives a great overall presentation of the Apollo program. I like that this book doesn't necessarily need to be read straight through; you can break it up into easily digestible chunks.
Shuttle, Houston: My Life in the Center Seat of Mission Control by Paul Dye
This book continues the tale of the unsung heroes in Mission Control. Though Gene Kranz is the most famous flight director, Dye is the longest serving one. This book gives a behind-the-scenes look into the control room for the 135 shuttle missions, where high pressure was the norm and mistakes were unthinkable.
The Ranger by Ace Atkins
Because I will always be a champion of Ace Atkins and his creation Quinn Colson, I include it in this list. See what I did there? Ranger was the name of some robotic space probes of the 60s. This book is the first of a series and has nothing to do with the space program; it's just a darn good story about a former Army Ranger who comes home from war and finds his Mississippi home overrun with meth, Memphis Mafia, and mayhem. Some have called this set of books "redneck noir.” I can't think of a better term.
Bill’s Bonus book: Pre-order this book now!
Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings by Earl Swift
Leave it to the United States to send a car to the moon! This is the story of the Lunar Roving Vehicle, dubbed the “moon-buggy” by the press. It doesn’t sound exciting, but I found this informative and easy to read. Space aficionados will love it; anyone can enjoy it.
Tom Wolfe at his very best" (The New York Times Book Review), The Right Stuff is the basis for the 1983 Oscar Award-winning film of the same name and the 8-part Disney+ TV mini-series.
EDITORIAL REVIEW: *The All-American Boys* is a no-holds-barred candid memoir by a former Marine jet jockey and physicist who became NASA's second civilian astronaut. Walter Cunningham presents the astronauts in all their glory in this dramatically revised and updated edition that was considered an instant classic in its first edition over two decades ago.
Reissued with a new preface by the author on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon
NATIONAL BESTSELLER. Astronaut Jim Lovell and coauthor Jeffrey Kluger’s harrowing account of the Apollo 13 disaster. Serving as the basis for Ron Howard’s blockbuster Apollo 13, the book reveals true details not shown in the movie.
"The authoritative masterpiece" (L. A. Times) on the Apollo space program and NASA's journey to the moon
The moon landing of 1969 stands as an iconic moment for both the United States and humankind. The familiar story focuses on the journey of the brave astronauts, who brought home Moon rocks and startling photographs. But Apollo's full account includes the earthbound engineers, mounds of their crumpled paper, and smoldering metal shards of exploded engines.
This New York Times bestselling memoir of a veteran NASA flight director tells riveting stories from the early days of the Mercury program through Apollo 11 (the moon landing) and Apollo 13, for both of which Kranz was flight director.
Gene Kranz was present at the creation of America’s manned space program and was a key player in it for three decades.
May not be available - email or call for information
From the longest-serving Flight Director in NASA's history comes a revealing account of high-stakes Mission Control work and the Space Shuttle program that has redefined our relationship with the universe.
May not be available - email or call for information
A celebration of the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo missions to the moon, this narrative uses 50 key artifacts from the Smithsonian archives to tell the story of the groundbreaking space exploration program.
THE FIRST NOVEL IN ACE ATKINS’ NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING QUINN COLSON SERIES.
“In Quinn Colson, bestselling author Ace Atkins has created an American hero in a time when we need him.”—C. J. Box
"THRILLING. ... Up-end[s] the Apollo narrative entirely." —The Times (London)
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