The best Moon books from a lunar scientist

Charles A. Wood Author Of 21st Century Atlas of the Moon
By Charles A. Wood

Who am I?

While watching my first eclipse of the Moon in the 5th grade I was awed that the Earth’s shadow stretched so far into space and by the speed the Moon passed through it. I started reading science fiction books and in high school discovered Sky & Telescope magazine. I've read S&T ever since and have proudly written its Moon column for the last 21 years. I've also built telescopes for backyard observing, earned a PhD in planetary science, worked at NASA & the Planetary Science Institute, written three books about the Moon, prepared 6 years of daily Lunar Photo of the Day blogs, and have been chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Lunar Nomenclature Task Group.


I wrote...

21st Century Atlas of the Moon

By Charles A. Wood, Maurice J. S. Collins,

Book cover of 21st Century Atlas of the Moon

What is my book about?

As a student and observer of the Moon, I always wanted a perfect atlas for use at the telescope and in my study, so Maurice Collins and I created it. Our 21st Century Atlas of the Moon is beautifully illustrated with images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which still circles the Moon every 2 hours with cameras clicking. LRO imaged Apollo Astronauts’ footprints on the Moon; impossibly tiny to be seen from Earth but our atlas shows exactly where to see astronaut landing sites. Lunar craters are named for famous scientists, and with the 21st Century Atlas of the Moon you can find the home crater for each of these humans, as well as the seas of Serenity and Tranquility – but be cautious of the Ocean of Storms!

The books I picked & why

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The Face of the Moon

By Ralph Belknap Baldwin,

Book cover of The Face of the Moon

Why this book?

The Face of the Moon was the most important lunar book of the 20th century and perhaps of all time. Ralph Baldwin was an astronomer who studied stars, but while waiting to give public lectures at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in 1941 he became fascinated by huge photos of the Moon on the planetarium’s walls. Baldwin saw that craters were everywhere, from tiny ones to giants hundreds of miles wide that had gouged surrounding terrain and ejected bright streamers of debris in all directions.

During World War 2 he recognized that myriads of craters from the Allied bombardment that had devasted France and Germany were tiny versions of what he saw on the Moon. The Moon’s craters were not volcanoes as commonly believed, they formed by explosions of projectiles – asteroids and comets. After the war, Baldwin investigated the physics of crater formation by setting off dynamite charges along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. From his observations and experiments, he wrote the first book that correctly detailed the origins of the Moon’s most common features, impact craters.

Although correct in nearly everything he wrote, the book was rejected by most publishers until 1949 when his hometown school, the University of Chicago, recognized its greatness. One Noble Prize-winning scientist saw The Face of the Moon at a cocktail party and sat down for the next two hours, captivated by it. Baldwin became an instant hero of lunar science.

The Face of the Moon

By Ralph Belknap Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Face of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Once and Future Moon

By Paul D. Spudis,

Book cover of The Once and Future Moon

Why this book?

This book by Paul Spudis is scientifically accurate and well-written for any proverbial intelligent layperson to enjoy. Paul’s (sadly, now a name on a crater near the lunar south pole) book is a popular introduction to the Moon 4.5 billion history, describing its catastrophic formation, its strange landforms and their geology, and especially the exploration by robotic spacecraft and Apollo astronauts – all of which Paul was involved with. In his lunar column for Smithsonian Magazine, Paul perfected his knack for revealing the fascinating history of the Moon and the reasons for humans to return. And now, 50 years since the last Apollo astronaut left the Moon, women and men will return starting this decade. You need to read The Once and Future Moon to be prepared - maybe prepared to go yourself.

The Once and Future Moon

By Paul D. Spudis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Once and Future Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration

By Don E. Wilhelms,

Book cover of To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration

Why this book?

Subtitled A Geologist’s History of Lunar Exploration, Don Wilhelms is every lunar scientist’s favorite selenographer. He worked from the very beginning of America’s lunar program to plan and prepare for humans to go to the Moon, including training geologists to map and understand an alien nearby world, and training fighter pilot astronauts to become extraterrestrial field geologists. To a Rocky Moon is Don’s comprehensive and entertaining story from an insider’s point of view of the officials, scientists, engineers, and astronauts who solved thousands of problems to successfully voyage to the Moon six times, and to survive one nearly disastrous aborted attempt. 

I especially like Don’s telling of the personalities of the people involved, nearly all of whom he knew and worked with. Virtually everyone struggled at some point but ultimately became a hero – or got out of the way – in learning about the Moon and getting us there; Don even mentions me. Don worked with Gene Shoemaker, a fabled lunar and planetary geologist who founded the U.S. Geological Survey’s lunar office, studied nuclear bomb craters to understand the physics of asteroid impacts that formed lunar craters, figured out the geologic framework of the Moon’s history, planned to go to the Moon but was disqualified for medical reasons, and died in a car collision while investigating Australian impact craters. Gene’s essence did go to the Moon; his ashes were in a space probe that impacted near a south pole crater now named Shoemaker.  

To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration

By Don E. Wilhelms,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To a Rocky Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Epic Moon: A History of Lunar Exploration in the Age of the Telescope

By William P. Sheehan, Thomas A. Dobbins,

Book cover of Epic Moon: A History of Lunar Exploration in the Age of the Telescope

Why this book?

Epic Moon tells the stories of the often odd characters and their thoughts about the Moon in the 400 years before Apollo. Although Galileo and one or two other early astronomers found evidence that the Moon did not hold water or air, the search for life and changes such as volcanic eruptions, light flashes, insect migrations, vegetation growth, and lunar cities dominated most lunar mapping and telescopic exploration and interpretation. The observers weren’t crazy, the Moon was completely alien, but humans understood only what was known on Earth. Terrestrial impact craters were not recognized until the early 1900s and the origins of many were still doubted into the 1960s. The fundamental discoveries starting with Galileo, skipping to Mädler in the 1830s, and Shoemaker and Baldwin in the 1950s, finally reached a firmament of understanding after Apollo when scientists established the new disciplines of lunar and planetary science.

Epic Moon: A History of Lunar Exploration in the Age of the Telescope

By William P. Sheehan, Thomas A. Dobbins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Epic Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage

By Daniel R. Altschuler, Fernando J. Ballesteros,

Book cover of The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage

Why this book?

Women have been involved in mapping and studying the Moon and the stars since the late 1600s. Women’s stories have almost never been told largely because most cultures considered women only as helpmeets, and because women scientists could only publish their work under their husband’s or brother’s names. Altschuler and Ballesteros, award-winning Puerto Rican and Spanish male astronomers, have selected the 28 women pioneer astronomers whose names graced lunar craters by 2019 to tell representative stories of hardship and success of woman astronomers and promoters. Although women's names are rare on the Moon, it is fitting that for Venus all the features are named for women and goddesses. 

I end by mentioning that since 2019 five more lunar craters honor women. Many more women are studying the Moon and the rest of the universe than ever before, and a woman will be on the next American mission to the Moon. Many women’s names will deservedly be on the Moon, just not too soon for you have to be dead three years for a lunar commemoration!

The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage

By Daniel R. Altschuler, Fernando J. Ballesteros,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philosophers and poets in times past tried to figure out why the stainless moon "smoothly polished, like a diamond" in Dante's words, had stains. The agreed solution was that, like a mirror, it reflected the imperfect Earth. Today we smile, but it was a clever way to understand the Moon in a manner that was consistent with the beliefs of their age. The Moon is no longer the "in" thing. We see it as often as the Sun and give it little thought - we've become
indifferent. However, the Moon does reflect more than just sunlight. The Moon, or more…

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