The best books on exoplanets

Many authors have picked their favorite books about exoplanet and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

By Sara Seager,

Book cover of The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

There can be no question greater than “Is there life outside the Earth?”. Sara Seager places her own search for planets outside the Earth - almost 5000 planets in other solar systems have been discovered in the past three decades, including Earth-like bodies - against her own life story and struggles as a scientist weathering the unexpected loss of a spouse and the raising of her two young sons. Astronomers estimate there are billions of undiscovered planets just in our Galaxy. Seager paints our very own Earth as a bright point of community and connection in the vastness of space as she gives a first-person account of the technical challenges of seeking other planets and life elsewhere.


Who am I?

As a child I was fascinated by space, planets, and the stars. Now I am a planetary scientist who has been involved with NASA’s interplanetary missions for four decades. I am curious, passionate about space exploration and discovery, and have been in leadership roles on some of these missions. I am also passionate about communicating these discoveries to the public. Learn about the planets from an expert, an insider who was there in the thick of the action during key times and who wants to communicate this excitement to you.


I wrote...

Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System

By Bonnie J. Buratti,

Book cover of Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System

What is my book about?

Join Bonnie J. Buratti, a leading planetary astronomer, on this personal tour of NASA's latest discoveries. Moving through the Solar System from Mercury, Venus, Mars, past comets and asteroids and the moons of the giant planets, to Pluto, and on to exoplanets, she gives vivid descriptions of landforms that are similar to those found on Earth but that are more fantastic. Sulfur-rich volcanoes and lakes on Io, active gullies on Mars, huge ice plumes and tar-like deposits on the moons of Saturn, hydrocarbon rivers and lakes on Titan, and nitrogen glaciers on Pluto are just some of the marvels that await readers. Learn about the search for life on other planets, and discover what it is like to be involved in a major scientific enterprise, with all its pitfalls and excitement. 

This engaging account of modern space exploration is written for non-specialist readers, from students in high school to enthusiasts of all ages.

The Book of Strange New Things

By Michel Faber,

Book cover of The Book of Strange New Things

I love books that are not just set in haunted or “alternate” places but also books set in space. It seems to me as both a reader and a writer I am attracted to stories that are set in worlds that are both imaginable and “strange.” Faber’s book is strange in the best possible ways. A husband and wife are separated when he goes to another planet to work for a corporation that wants religious teachings to take root on the planet. The “natives”—who can be wounded but can’t heal—embrace these new teachings eagerly, at the same time Earth, the world the religion came from, is collapsing (as the wife desperately reports) into utter chaos and ruin. This is a novel about love and separation and fear and harm and good, an imaginative and not-at-all-preachy book that will still have you looking up at the stars and wondering: if we…


Who am I?

I am a writer of speculative novels, captivated by fictional worlds that resemble ours and don’t, stories that travel to places we find strange (sometimes even unsettling) but can’t look away from, tales we feel in our minds and in our guts. For me writing and reading, though they seem sedentary activities, are actually physical acts we experience with our entire being and body—before I became a writer I was a professional ballet dancer, and I’ve never lost the sense that stories are movement, making you feel like you’re flying even if you’re sitting still. I’ve written seven books, and love that my job is leaping with readers.


I wrote...

Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

By M. Dressler,

Book cover of Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

What is my book about?

In a remote town in the desert Southwest, a house appears to remodel itself, a cemetery is rearranged, and an ancient valley is suddenly haunted by a glimmering visitor. Called in to “clean” the unwanted dead, ghost expert Philip Pratt finds himself in territory at once familiar and unfamiliar, stalking the spirit of Emma Rose Finnis—a ghost who has come to this harsh place to see just how far a soul can go. In a cat-and-mouse game between the living and the dead, Pratt and Emma must each confront how far they are willing to travel into this stunning landscape, already filled with the people and spirits of the past. As their encounters become more and more dangerous, the living and the dead each become more certain they must control their own destinies—even if it means risking their souls.

How to Find a Habitable Planet

By James Kasting,

Book cover of How to Find a Habitable Planet

Kasting, a geoscientist, is one of the world’s leading theorists on planet habitability, who for many years has collaborated with NASA in the search for habitable extrasolar planets. He is more optimistic than Ward and Brownlee, arguing that we still don’t know enough about the exoplanet population to conclude that Earth is so very rare. How to Find a Habitable Planet begins by looking at why the Earth is habitable, then goes on to discuss limits to planetary habitability, the failed cases of Mars and Venus, habitable zones around stars, detection of extrasolar planets, and techniques that could be used to surmise the presence of life on those planets. What I love about this book is how it digs into the nitty-gritty details of the science, how it trusts the reader to be willing to think hard, and think deeper.

Who am I?

A child of scientists, I grew up planning to be a physicist, but became a novelist instead. Since I straddle the worlds of science and literature, I’ve always valued good science writing. It’s a rare talent to be able to inform and excite the general reader while not oversimplifying the science. I particularly thrill to books about exploring other planets and star systems, because when I was a teenager I read a lot of science fiction, and wished more than anything that someday, when I was much older, I would find myself on a rocket headed for, say, a colony on Mars.


I wrote...

The Stone Loves the World

By Brian Hall,

Book cover of The Stone Loves the World

What is my book about?

The Stone Loves the World is a novel about two families, one made up of scientists and the other of artists, whose only connection is an accidental pregnancy two decades in the past. That child, now twenty, is Mette—computer programmer, numbers theory enthusiast, socially awkward young woman, who has just suffered her first rejection in love. 

Contemplating suicide, she hops on a cross-country bus, while her long-estranged parents—Mark, an astronomer, and Saskia, an actress and playwright—combine their efforts to find her. This novel asks whether people of different temperaments and backgrounds can learn to understand each other, and whether people’s loneliness in society is echoed by human loneliness in the cosmos.

Astrobiology

By Andrew May,

Book cover of Astrobiology: The Search for Life Elsewhere in the Universe

“Are we alone?” An age-old question that we may never answer. Andrew May walks us through the scientific study of whether there might be life elsewhere in the universe, and how we might identify it. And by “scientific study,” I mean actual scientific investigations, not wishy-washy sci-fi fluff. The book is both inspiring and terrifying, because the immense distances in space and time make you realize that intelligent life is both incredibly insignificant and incredibly precious.


Who am I?

I am an associate professor of neuroscience at the Donders Institute in the Netherlands. My research lab focuses on discovering how the brain uses electrical signaling to compute information, and transfer information across different regions of the brain. I also have a few decades of experience teaching scientific coding, data analysis, statistics, and related topics, and have authored several online courses and textbooks. I have a suspiciously dry sense of humor and insufficient patience to read five books on the same topic.


I wrote...

Linear Algebra: Theory, Intuition, Code

By Mike X Cohen,

Book cover of Linear Algebra: Theory, Intuition, Code

What is my book about?

Linear algebra is the study of matrices (like a spreadsheet of numbers) and operations acting on them. Linear algebra used to be an advanced topic that was only of interest to advanced mathematics students. But modern computing has brought linear algebra to the forefront of human civilization: Nearly everything that computers do — from video graphics to financial modeling to machine learning to artificial intelligence — is implemented using linear algebra. I have tried to present linear algebra in a way that is rigorous yet lucid, explaining proofs and concepts while also using diagrams and code to show how linear algebra is applied and used in practice. This textbook can be used for self-study or as part of a university-level course.

Hull Zero Three

By Greg Bear,

Book cover of Hull Zero Three

This book has the ideal traits I appreciate in science fiction—as with H.G. Wells’s classic tales, it’s reasonably short and can be read as pure adventure or allegory. We meet the archetypal figure of the “Teacher” birthed by a bioprinting machine on a starship soon to terraform an exoplanet. The Teacher has to grapple with survival, his purpose, the ship’s mission, and his realization that everything is haywire in this high-tech Eden full of monsters. Hull Zero Three is a detective tale with philosophical undertones as the Teacher slowly makes sense of the chaos that surrounds him, contends with his earlier clones, and undergoes a quest. Anyone who has ever experienced the drudgery of actual teaching will appreciate Bear’s creation of the Teacher as a mythic archetype.  


Who am I?

I’m fascinated with techno-utopian schemes. Decades ago, I had conversations with a friend who believed that humanity needed to evolve and leave the planet, just as early life once left the oceans. It was an intriguing idea that I have tried to follow up, critically, in Star Settlers. My book is a history not so much of the technology and nuts and bolts of space travel (although I do cover some of that), but of the rationale behind it—the idea that humanity’s ultimate destiny is in the stars. The idea is beguiling—but, likely, wrong-headed. To write the book, I spoke with physicists, science fiction writers, and space enthusiasts of all stripes. 


I wrote...

Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

By Fred Nadis,

Book cover of Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

What is my book about?

The idea that humanity’s destiny is in the stars has long been popular with science fiction writers and space visionaries. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk now lead that choir, insisting that we must establish Earth 2.0 out in space to prevent human extinction. They follow Russian mystic Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s century-old advice that “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Star Settlers traces the waxing and waning of interest in space settlement through the decades, offers a journalistic tour through the influential subculture attempting to shape a multi-planetary future, and tackles the somewhat surreal conceptions underlying the enterprise.  

Aurora

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Book cover of Aurora

Robinson, a science fiction master, has no qualms promoting views that are science fiction heresies. After publishing his acclaimed trilogy about the terraforming of Mars, in Aurora, Robinson argues that the astrofuture premise of science fiction dating back to its earliest days is wrong. The grand goal of evolving beyond the planet is doomed to fail. In Aurora, a generational starship arrives at its target exoplanet, but what seems a promising terraforming mission is stymied. As Robinson said to me in an email exchange, “The new paradigm might be that life is a planetary expression, and away from its home planet, life withers and dies.” Robinson has since turned to writing “cli-fi” books about how humanity can adapt to and forestall earthly environmental disaster. 


Who am I?

I’m fascinated with techno-utopian schemes. Decades ago, I had conversations with a friend who believed that humanity needed to evolve and leave the planet, just as early life once left the oceans. It was an intriguing idea that I have tried to follow up, critically, in Star Settlers. My book is a history not so much of the technology and nuts and bolts of space travel (although I do cover some of that), but of the rationale behind it—the idea that humanity’s ultimate destiny is in the stars. The idea is beguiling—but, likely, wrong-headed. To write the book, I spoke with physicists, science fiction writers, and space enthusiasts of all stripes. 


I wrote...

Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

By Fred Nadis,

Book cover of Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

What is my book about?

The idea that humanity’s destiny is in the stars has long been popular with science fiction writers and space visionaries. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk now lead that choir, insisting that we must establish Earth 2.0 out in space to prevent human extinction. They follow Russian mystic Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s century-old advice that “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Star Settlers traces the waxing and waning of interest in space settlement through the decades, offers a journalistic tour through the influential subculture attempting to shape a multi-planetary future, and tackles the somewhat surreal conceptions underlying the enterprise.  

Midnight Robber

By Nalo Hopkinson,

Book cover of Midnight Robber

From Jamaican fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber is a mind-altering journey through the Caribbean culture and lush, colorful exoplanetary systems. If you are interested in crime mysteries, faction-driven subplots, and new worlds of fantastic beasts, this read is for you. An ode to the Jamaican/Caribbean culture I grew up in.

I recall my first dive into the patchwork of chaotic energies in Midnight Robber. I was tossed around, chewed by the magnificent prose of an author I truly admire. When I felt this energizing feeling, I had no other choice but to continue reading. Nalo had me. She was in control. A difficult exercise only the most talented writers can successfully conduct. I tapped out and surrendered to the greatness of her pen, admiring and grateful.   


Who am I?

As a child of many cultures and journeys, mind-bending themes like time travel, environmentalism, and social justice have always been at the forefront of my creative development. Raised at the junction of the South American, African, Caribbean, and European cultures, disrupting established tropes, timelines, and unilateral perspectives are my areas of expertise as an author. An advocate for writers of diverse backgrounds, my top 5 picks are a reflection of that will; that landscape of a thousand colors and textures. Embark on this literary journey with me. Let’s survey a world of words together.


I wrote...

Alidala: A Vice Versa Series

By Andre Soares,

Book cover of Alidala: A Vice Versa Series

What is my book about?

Alidala, the epic conclusion to Andre Soares’ Vice Versa series, is a showdown between men, aliens, and gods—beyond the constructs of time and space.

Plunge into the gargantuan mouth of Hemos, an exoplanet that will challenge even the strongest bonds.

Bookshelves related to exoplanet