The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing is upon us, and in that time, there has been plenty of ink spilled about the implications, technical specifications, individuals, and historical significance of the mission. As with any big anniversary, publishers have seized the moment to release an entire library’s worth of new material about the history of the Apollo program, and there are a number of new books to check out if you’re interested in learning more about the mission.
These books cover a wide range of topics related to the mission: the actual Apollo 11 landing itself, but also the efforts of the thousands of engineers, scientists, administrators, and politicians who played a role.
Here are a bunch more to add to your reading list.
Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions by Nancy Atkinson
When anyone talks about Apollo 11, the people who immediately come to mind are Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two astronauts who stepped foot on the lunar surface. Sometimes, they remember Michael Collins, the command module pilot who brought them there, and sometimes, the other astronauts involved in the Apollo program.
But the space program included thousands and thousands of people working behind the scenes, something that Nancy Atkinson covers in her latest book, Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions. She tells the story of the engineers who developed the hardware used in the Apollo program, and conveys the monumental effort that it took to send the first three people to the moon.
American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley
Douglas Brinkley is one of the best-known public historians out there, known for books about US presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and as well as books about the Louisiana Purchase, Hurricane Katrina, and World War II.
His latest, American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, draws on his expertise in presidential history, and explores how the US space program unfolded, exploring the political landscape that President John F. Kennedy had to navigate, as well as the engineers and scientists who developed the technology that made the mission possible.
Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan’s latest, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 is a gripping, overarching narrative of the space race, from the race to the moon, from Sputnik all the way to the Apollo 11 mission. The book has been hailed by reviewers as an exhaustive and comprehensive volume about the space race and the iconic mission.
One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us To The Moon by Charles Fishman
In his latest history, Charles Fishman takes a similar approach to Nancy Atkinson: the result is an in-depth dive into the behind-the-scenes efforts that it took to develop the technology required to reach the moon, focusing not on the astronauts, but of the 410,000 administrators, engineers, scientists and workers, as well as the administrators who oversaw them and guided the program.
Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings by Roger D. Launius
Roger D. Launius has one credential that most space historians don’t have: he’s the former Chief Historian of NASA. In his latest book, Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings, he doesn’t so much as recount the history behind the Apollo program, but examines the impact that it had on the public. In doing so, he looks at how the astronauts were marketed, how the first pictures of Earth from the space program changed public perceptions, and presents both the program’s triumphs and failures.
Moon: A History for the Future by Oliver Morton
As we’ve seen thus far with this list, the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing has directed a lot of attention towards the history of the Apollo 11 mission and the efforts that helped make it happen. In his latest book, The Moon, Economist writer Oliver Morton, takes a slightly different path: he examines the wider history of our fascination with the moon. In it, he looks at the observations of early astronomers, scientists, artists, and science fiction writers, and speculates on what the future might hold for our return.
Apollo 11: The Inside Story by David Whitehouse
David Whitehouse’s book, Apollo 11: The Inside Story, is, as the title suggests, an exhaustive look at the Apollo 11 mission. He conducted extensive interviews with the astronauts involved in the mission, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, and many others, and explores the story of the mission through their words and how it fit into the larger story of the space race between the US and USSR.
These certainly aren’t the only books out there to read up on the history of the space race — there have been numerous others that have come out over the years that are worth picking up as well.
Nebraska University’s Outward Odyssey series includes two fantastic entries — Into that Silent Sea and In the Shadow of the Moon, which go over the leadup to the lunar landing: how the Mercury and Gemini programs set the stage for Apollo. There is also Robert Kurson’s Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts who made Man’s First Journey to the Moon, Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon (get the paperback edition — the first edition had some major errors in it that were corrected), or First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong by James R. Hansen. For some more meaty behind-the-scenes, check out This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age by William E. Burrows or The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age by Walter A. McDougall — both of which earned Pulitzer Prizes for history.