The best books on the Soviet space program and the space race

Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

I wrote...


By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

What is my book about?

Laika was the Moscow street dog destined to become Earth's first space traveler. This graphic novel follows her journey. Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fact and fiction in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Sergei Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet Union's space program, and Yelena Dubrovsky, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and wellbeing. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal event in modern times, illuminating the hidden moments, both human and canine, that lie behind the written word of history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon

Why did I love this book?

Korolev is one of the true architects of the 20th century and the technologically advanced world we live in today, yet most people in the West don’t have any idea who he is. A designer and engineer in the Soviet hierarchy and survivor of Stalin’s purges, he was a remarkable individual who united various small Soviet design bureaus to create the illusion of military-industrial organization that was equal and opposite in might to that of the USA. That was for the purposes of his masters; Korolev really did just want to put a Russian on the Moon. Harford’s book gives a sense of the visionary that lurked just beneath the surface of the canny political operator who changed history. The Russians led the world into space, but it was Korolev who led the Russians there.

By James Harford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive Beat America to the Moon. "Fascinating ...packed with technical and historical detail for the space expert and enthusiast alike ...Great stuff!"-New Scientist "In this exceptional book, James Harford pieces together a most compelling and well-written tale...Must reading."-Space News. "Through masterful research and an engaging narrative style, James Harford gives the world its first in-depth look at the man who should rightly be called the father of the Soviet space program."-Norman R. Augustine, CEO, Lockheed Martin. "In Korolev, James Harford has written a masterly biography of this enigmatic 'Chief Designer' whose role the Soviets…

Book cover of Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974

Why did I love this book?

This really is the bible for anyone seeking to know about the USSR’s Space Program in detail. Siddiqi’s research is forensic and utterly exhaustive and includes all manner of original Russian language sources as well as interviews with many a Soviet space veteran and scholar. He tells the story of the nascent Soviet space effort and its development into a vast project that shaped the world; it includes the story of every major character and player involved. It’s absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the other team that played in the Space Race.

By Asif A. Siddiqi, Nasa History Office,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Challenge to Apollo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Taking advantage of the Soviet archives, which were opened in the 1990s, Siddiqi has written a groundbreaking work that examines why the Soviet Union fell behind in the space race of the 1960s after changing the course of human history with the first artificial satellite launch, Sputnik, in 1957.

Book cover of Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle

Why did I love this book?

This book came out right after I completed Laika, but I wish I’d been able to use it in my research (although Dubbs’ earlier book, Space Dogs: Pioneers in Space Travel was extremely useful).

If Siddiqi’s book focuses more on the human journey behind the Soviet space program, this is a parallel account of some other unwitting (and undersung) pioneers: the experimental animals who were sent ahead of humankind. We share this world with animals and they were dispatched on our behalf to test the deep waters of the heavens also. It was thought - correctly - that if they could survive, so could we. Laika may very well be the most famous of these pathfinders (at least beyond Russia), but there were many more. This book is a history of all those other animal astronauts launched into space both prior to Laika and aboard more recent missions.

By Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Animals in Space as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is as a detailed, but highly readable and balanced account of the history of animal space flights carried out by all nations, but principally the United States and the Soviet Union. It explores the ways in which animal high-altitude and space flight research impacted on space flight biomedicine and technology, and how the results - both successful and disappointing - allowed human beings to then undertake that same hazardous journey with far greater understanding and confidence. This complete and authoritative book will undoubtedly become the ultimate authority on animal space flights.

Book cover of Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space

Why did I love this book?

Space Race was originally a companion book to a BBC docudrama from the mid-2000s and as such shares all the climactic page-turning paciness you’d expect from such an account. While it doesn’t share the deep detail of some of the books mentioned above, it’s an illuminating and highly enjoyable overview of the historical events that culminated in the Americans landing on the Moon in Apollo 11 in 1969.

By Deborah Cadbury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the most exhilarating true adventures in history, the race into space was marked by courage, duplicity, political paranoia, astonishing technological feats, and unbelievable triumphs in the face of overwhelming adversity. It is the story of an unparalleled rivalry between superpowers and of the two remarkable men at the center of the conflict. On the American side was Wernher von Braun, the camera-friendly former Nazi scientist, who was granted hero status and almost unlimited resources by a government panicked at the thought of the Cold War enemy taking the lead. The Soviet program was headed by Sergei Korolev, a…

Full Moon

By Michael Light, Andrew Chaikin,

Book cover of Full Moon

Why did I love this book?

This visual record is compiled from several different Apollo missions from thousands of archival NASA images to form one complete photographic trip to the Moon and back. It’s a testament to an event that for many has become something like mythology or folklore, but here’s the visceral truth. It really happened and here the reader can get a sense of what one of those journeys in a rocket-powered tin can was like - from Earth to Luna and back again. The lunar surface is a place of “magnificent desolation” (as Buzz Aldrin put it), a genuinely alien place - and yet it is our sister world. This powerful sequential narrative shows us how close it is. It’s probably one of the most awe-inspiring books in my personal collection of books about space.

By Michael Light, Andrew Chaikin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Full Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most thrilling of all journeys--the missions of the Apollo astronauts to the surface of the Moon and back--yielded 32,000 extraordinarily beautiful photographs, the record of a unique human achievement. Until recently, only a handful of these photographs had been released for publication; but now, for the first time, NASA has allowed a selection of the master negatives and transparencies to be scanned electronically, rendering the sharpest images of space that we have ever seen. Michael Light has woven 129 of these stunningly clear images into a single composite voyage, a narrative of breathtaking immediacy and authenticity that begins with…

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Interested in the Soviet space program, the Soviet Union, and space race?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet space program, the Soviet Union, and space race.

The Soviet Space Program Explore 8 books about the Soviet space program
The Soviet Union Explore 307 books about the Soviet Union
Space Race Explore 17 books about space race