The best books on which to contemplate our place in the universe

Michelle Evans Author Of The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings Into Space
By Michelle Evans

Who am I?

My passion for science and technology is the fault of my father, who first took me to Edwards AFB when I was five years old. He would pawn me off on a colleague to keep me busy while he would do the work he needed to do. That meant that I got to wander around the hangars, watching all the fascinating things happening to take the X-15 into space, and getting to meet the people who made it all happen. That passion spilled over into science fiction as well, along with the idea of trying to discover what the universe was not only like, but what it could be.

I wrote...

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings Into Space

By Michelle Evans,

Book cover of The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings Into Space

What is my book about?

With the Soviet Union’s launch of the first satellite in 1957, the Cold War soared to new heights as Americans feared losing the race into space. This book tells the story of the hypersonic X-15, the winged rocket ship that met this challenge and opened the way into human-controlled spaceflight.

This aircraft held the world’s altitude record for 41 years and still has no equal to match its speed of more than 4,500 mph. Beyond this are the stories of the men who guided it into space, and all those who kept it flying. This is the X-15 rocket plane, the first piloted and winged vehicle to exit Earth’s atmosphere and make a controlled re-entry.

The books I picked & why

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Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965

By Francis French, Colin Burgess,

Book cover of Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965

Why this book?

This book is written by two dear friends who are the reason I am a published author myself. However, I don’t recommend it just because they are close to me, but because it is a wonderful book that kicked off the entire Outward Odyssey series, of which my book is a part. This magnificent book set a new standard for historical work on space exploration by focusing on the people instead of the hardware. The stories you’ll read here will show you why we are who we are and why humans will always strive for the unknown.

Quantum Night

By Robert J. Sawyer,

Book cover of Quantum Night

Why this book?

I found this book to be one of the most amazing and compelling works of science fiction ever written because it dares to answer the basic question of not only who we are, but why. Have you ever wondered what makes people act the way they do to others? Why are some empathetic while others will step over their best friend’s corpse in order to get ahead? And why do many appear to simply be along for the ride, not caring one way or another, never leaving their mark on anything they touch? Once you read this book, it will all fall into place. Sawyer gave me the most profound “a-ha” moment of clarity that I have ever experienced while reading a work of fiction.

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot

By Albert Scott Crossfield, Clay Blair,

Book cover of Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot

Why this book?

Crossfield wrote one of the first books about what it means to be a test pilot of a powerful rocket plane, and I consider it the best. This book is an autobiography that delves into the nature of the personality of someone who can climb into the cockpit of an experimental aircraft, light off the engines, and climb high into the desert sky at multiples of the speed of sound. It also is the book that began my deeply personal 30-year journey to write my own book on the North American X-15. Scotty was one of the first pilots I spoke to in order to get insights into how these people think and react. I know you’ll enjoy meeting him through his book as much as I did sitting with him in person.

The City and the Stars

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of The City and the Stars

Why this book?

Those who know me, understand that Arthur C. Clarke has been my favorite author for as long as I can remember, and they would probably be surprised at my pick of this novel over his most well-known book 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Childhood’s End. Let me put it this way, I’ll recommend anything written by Clarke, but this book stands out for me because of its profound look at the far future of humanity, which has fallen nearly to the point of extinction. It is a work that serves as a warning to us all, but also shows how one person can change the trajectory of an entire society, bringing it back from the brink in order to move once again among the stars.

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?

Never has humankind been as audacious as that time when we decided to break the grip of gravity and travel to the Moon. Many astronauts have written books about their experiences as part of that giant leap, but none better than Gene Cernan’s autobiography. I had the pleasure of working with Gene on multiple occasions when he was first promoting his book, and each time he would speak you could feel the joy he had in living his life and walking on the surface of another celestial body. What I truly enjoyed was that he always reached out to the young people in his audience, the ones who have only witnessed Apollo through the history books. He said, “I lived for three days on the Moon. Don’t ever tell me that anything in your life is impossible!”

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Carrying the Fire, How Apollo Flew to the Moon, and Apollo if you like this list.