The best books on the human and technical excellence behind the Apollo Moon missions

Who am I?

Hot Moon, my new alternate-Apollo thriller set entirely on and around the Moon, is my labor of love and the book I always wanted to write. I grew up in Yorkshire, England, far from Cape Kennedy and Mission Control, but was always obsessed with the Apollo Program and with astronomy and space in general. This passion (nudged along by shows like Doctor Who, UFO, and Star Trek) eventually led to degrees in Physics and Astrophysics from Oxford. I now live in the US and work for NASA studying black holes and other bizarre celestial objects.

I wrote...

Hot Moon

By Alan Smale,

Book cover of Hot Moon

What is my book about?

Apollo 32, commanded by career astronaut Vivian Carter, docks at NASA’s Columbia space station in lunar orbit en route to its main mission: exploring the volcanic Marius Hills region of the Moon. Vivian is caught in the crossfire as four Soviet craft appear without warning to assault the orbiting station. In an unplanned and desperate move, Vivian spacewalks through hard vacuum back to her Lunar Module and crew, and escapes right before the station falls into Soviet hands.

Their original mission scrubbed, Vivian and her crew are redirected to land at Hadley Base, a NASA scientific outpost with a crew of eighteen. But soon Hadley, too, will come under Soviet attack, forcing its unarmed astronauts to daring acts of ingenuity and improvisation. 

The books I picked & why

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Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

By Michael Collins,

Book cover of Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

Why this book?

Michael Collins walked in space on the Gemini 10 mission in 1966, and three years later orbited the Moon as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 11. But in addition to being an adventurous and thoroughly competent astronaut, Collins was also a fabulous writer. Detailed, evocative, thoughtful–philosophical, even, and often subtly humorous–Michael Collins weaves a fascinating story about his experiences on Earth and in space. If you only ever read one book penned by an astronaut, make it this one. It’s almost as good as being in space yourself.

How Apollo Flew to the Moon

By W. David Woods,

Book cover of How Apollo Flew to the Moon

Why this book?

You’ll find a thousand books that tell the Apollo story, describing the missions and the astronauts and the drama, and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin is most people’s gateway drug. It’s a great book. But being on the technical side myself–and needing all those messy in-depth technical details to get my own book right–I found Woods’ book perfect for delving deep into the scientific and technical ingenuity of the missions, of all the procedures and maneuvers from launch through splashdown, and many other fascinating aspects that other books leave out. If you’ve ever read an Apollo history and wondered: “But how did that really work, how long did it take, what was the process, why did they do it that way?” or even just “Uh, they did what, now?” then this is totally the book for you.

Apollo 13 Owners' Workshop Manual: An insight into the development, events and legacy of NASA's 'successful failure'

By David Baker,

Book cover of Apollo 13 Owners' Workshop Manual: An insight into the development, events and legacy of NASA's 'successful failure'

Why this book?

Haynes Manuals: they’re not just for cars anymore. Haynes also publishes books dedicated to the technical details of planes you’ll never own or service, and spacecraft you’ll never fly in. They’re detailed, they’re technical, and they’re geek gold. With a million color pictures and cutaway diagrams, and text crammed with comprehensive engineering details, the Haynes' Apollo 13 volume is a perfect companion to my Woods pick, or a great standalone in getting literally beneath the skin of the Apollo spacecraft and seeing exactly how all the moving parts worked. By all means buy the Haynes' Apollo 11 Manual too (I did), but I think this one has the edge in terms of technical depth–and you obviously get the full backstory of this aborted and almost disastrous Lost Moon mission too.

Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon, 1963-1972

By David West Reynolds,

Book cover of Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon, 1963-1972

Why this book?

As a break from the two hardcore technical volumes above, my next pick is a coffee table book stuffed with awesome historical photos and graphics, that tells the story of the Apollo Program in a more straightforward and traditional fashion, but also delves into the politics, the science of what we learned about lunar geology, and so on. There’s no shortage of big glossy Apollo books, but for my money this is the most complete and absorbing, and has all the best pictures. 

The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space

By Eugene Cernan, Donald A. Davis,

Book cover of The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space

Why this book?

If you only ever read two books penned by astronauts, this should be the second. Gene Cernan flew on Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17; on this final mission in 1972 he was the last man to walk on the Moon as part of the Apollo Program. Like Collins, Cernan sheds the astronaut tough-guy image to show us the human cost of the Apollo Program, as well as the bravery and glory of the enterprise. He’s unflinchingly honest, but also thoughtful and sometimes lyrical about his space experiences, and always entertaining. Of all the astronauts, Cernan might have been my first choice as a dinner companion; I’d have loved to talk with him about his three EVAs covering 22 hours of lunar exploration. That would have been terrific.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the moon, astronauts, and the Apollo program?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the moon, astronauts, and the Apollo program.

The Moon Explore 84 books about the moon
Astronauts Explore 42 books about astronauts
The Apollo Program Explore 15 books about the Apollo program

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Two Sides of the Moon, All-American Boys, and Into That Silent Sea if you like this list.