Welcome to Monday Musings, a series where I review books that I read pre-end of 2017, when I started writing wrap-ups, talk about characters or topics that aren’t as relevant, or sometimes a surprise non-bookish thing. This week, as most weeks in my life, we’re talking about space, so let’s get started!
That should really just read “by astronauts” because that’s what this list is. HI I’M BACK WITH MORE SPACE LOVE! Last week, I posted my Top 10 Fiction Books Set in Space, and I knew, as soon as I started it, that I was going to have to follow up with my favorite astronaut books because guys, I love astronauts almost as much as I love space in general.
Below you’ll find five of my favorite astronaut books, some of which are hardcore and some of which are just plain awesome.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield may be one of my favorite books of all time. If you’ve ever asked me for a book rec, I’ve probably tried to throw this at you. This was the first astronaut book I ever read, and it immediately vaulted me into wanting more. Even if you’re not a huge space nerd, this is an excellent read. Hadfield is funny, engaging, and passionate about life in all its forms. He takes the lessons he learned in training to be an astronaut and applies them to everyday life, and he reminds us that while chasing your dreams can be difficult, and sometimes unrewarding, as long as you put in the effort, as long as you continue to chase it, something will happen along the way.
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith is fantastically written, and it’s a really great way to dive into the astronauts without all the normal tech talk. Many astronaut bios, like the one below, are super dense and full of complicated scientific and engineering terms. This, however, is told through the eyes of a journalist, and so a lot of that firsthand knowledge is absent, making this a pleasant, easy read. There were only twelve men who ever walked on the moon, and at the publication of this book, only nine of them were left alive. Smith felt that we needed to honor these men and hear their stories, so he devotes time to each of the nine, asking them questions they’ve answered a thousand times, but asking them in a different sort of light that allows them to speak to their experiences in a new, refreshing way.
Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey by Michael Collins is near and dear to my heart. Mike is my number one, guys. I like to tell his story during savasana in my yoga classes a lot, and it always makes me sad that no one really knows who he is. Mike is responsible for getting Neil & Buzz to the moon and home safely. Without him, Apollo 11 wouldn’t have been possible. All three men were so vital to that mission, and Mike’s biography takes the time to explain why. This is not for the casual reader, though. Out of all the bios that I’ve read, Mike’s is probably the most difficult to read. He has a very dry sense of humor, and his tech talk is, at times, overwhelming, but underneath that lies a beautiful, heart-wrenching, funny story. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the Apollo astronauts, pick this up and take your time with it.
Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space by John Young is probably right up there with Mike, both meaning he’s my number two and this is a difficult read for non-space folk. It’s a little easier than Mike’s, but Young likes to get into the nitty gritties of space flight and really lay it out there for you. Young is also nice to read close to Mike as they partnered on Gemini X, and it’s interesting to see their different takes on the mission. Young is infamous for his sneaked corned beef sandwich, but that is only one of his many wild and hilarious adventures. From break-dancing on the moon (on accident) to breaking into spontaneous lecture about the end of the world via super volcanoes, Young will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Plus, he is damn handsome.
Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino is another book I recommend a lot. It’s super funny, like Hadfield’s, and it’s so much easier to understand than a lot of the early astronaut biographies. Massimino comes to us from NJ, made a few appearances on The Big Bang Theory, and is your standard average guy. He talks a lot about how there’s nothing special about him, just that he thought space was cool and liked flying, so why not combine the two? Massimino speaks to the everyday man, challenging them to reach higher because why not? Anything is possible. He was also my first Hubble astronaut, which makes for a completely different story than an ISS astronaut, and it was very interesting to read.
And a bonus because I can’t help myself.
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James Hansen took me a long time to read because I just did not want to get to the end. In the only ever authorized biography, Hansen was granted access to Armstrong’s life in a way almost no one before him ever was. Armstrong agreed to several hours-long interviews to go discuss everything from his childhood right up until his final years. This is a detailed look at Armstrong’s life that offered no excuses and took no short cuts. This is Neil’s life, laid bare, and yet, walking away, he still feels like a mystery. It was well-written, very informative, and made me cry.
And that’s space! I have almost two full shelves dedicated to nonfiction, and my astronauts take up about a fourth of one with a few unread ones waiting to join them. Someday, I hope to have just an entire shelf of astronaut biographies.
Have you read any of these? Are there any not on this list that you loved? Did any of these spark your interest? Let me know in the comments!