The best space race books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about space race and why they recommend each book.

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Hidden Figures

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

I’m a science writer and love to read and write about history’s hidden figures—especially women in science, art, and technology. Margot Lee Shetterly masterfully blends the biographies of five brave Black female mathematicians with the stories of America’s space program and the Space Race. Hidden Figures is a wonderful, inspiring book that illuminates an era bursting with creativity but weighed down by discrimination, introducing readers to a new group of American heroes.  

Hidden Figures

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Hidden Figures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America's space program-and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now. Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as "Human Computers," calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American…

Who am I?

I adore non-fiction books that read like novels. After ten years of working in research labs, my master’s degree in biology led me to a new career in science writing. I recently dove into the worlds of narrative non-fiction and history when I wrote Radiant, the Dancer, The Scientist and a Friendship Forged in Light. Immersing myself in Belle Époque Paris to research and intertwine the stories of Marie Curie and the inventor/dancer Loie Fuller helped me discover a passion for telling the stories of important figures forgotten by history. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Radiant: The Dancer, the Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light

What is my book about?

At the turn of the century, Paris was a hotbed of creativity. Technology boomed, delivering to the world electric light, the automobile, and new ways to treat disease, while imagination blossomed, creating Art Nouveau, motion pictures, and modernist literature. A pivotal figure during this time, yet largely forgotten today, Loie Fuller was an American performance artist who became a living symbol of the Art Nouveau movement with her hypnotic dances and stunning theatrical effects. Credited today as the pioneer of modern dance, she was perennially broke, never took no for an answer, spent most of her life with a female partner, and never questioned her drive. She was a visionary, a renegade, and a loyal friend.

Korolev

By James Harford,

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

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.

Korolev

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…

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...

Laika

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.

Space Race

By Deborah Cadbury,

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

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.

Space Race

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…


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...

Laika

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.

Book cover of Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

This is a must-read for anyone who wants to follow the history of the US Space program from the very first launch onward. Barbree was the only journalist to cover every launch and while doing so met many of the astronauts and provides behind-the-scenes stories of dedication and comraderie. I had the privilege to participate in a book signing with Mr. Barbree at the US Space Museum in Titusville, FL in 2014. He’s a funny man who has loved all things space since the launch of Sputnik. This book is filled with humor, personal stories, and an understanding of how the media coverage of the space program and NASA has changed over the years. Barbree has also written an outstanding biography of Neil Armstrong, completed just prior to this pioneer’s death. 

Live from Cape Canaveral

By Jay Barbree,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Live from Cape Canaveral as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“From Sputnik to the International Space Station, Jay Barbree has seen it all, and reported it well. ‘Live from Cape Canaveral’ encapsulates the most technically exciting half century in history.” –Neil Armstrong

Some fifty years ago, while a cub reporter, Jay Barbree caught space fever the night that Sputnik passed over Georgia. He moved to the then-sleepy village of Cocoa Beach, Florida, right outside Cape Canaveral, and began reporting on rockets that fizzled as often as they soared. In "Live from Cape Canaveral," Barbree—the only reporter who has covered every mission flown by astronauts—offers his unique perspective on the space…


Who am I?

Growing up on the Space Coast, with my dad working on the Space Shuttle, and launches a regular occurrence, over time I took the program for granted. When the last Shutte launched, though, it left a hole in my heart. Gradually a desire to write about my hometown and its place in space history gave birth to the Jessie Cole trilogy. A combination of stories from my dad’s childhood in Titusville, conversations with docents at our historical society, and scores of books, magazine articles, and archived news footage helped reshape my view of space exploration. It was hard to choose just five books to highlight. More are noted in the Research Library section of my website.


I wrote...

Undaunted

By Rebekah Lyn,

Book cover of Undaunted

What is my book about?

Undaunted is a coming-of-age story for both Jessie Cole and the US Space Program. From the announcement of the Mercury 7, Jessie is determined to become an astronaut when he grows up. The challenges of an alcoholic father, family displacement from their home on Merritt Island, and the turmoil of war in Vietnam never dull his intense determination.

A story of family, country, and dreams that drive us to push beyond our limitations.

The Last Man on the Moon

By Eugene Cernan, Donald A. Davis,

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

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.

The Last Man on the Moon

By Eugene Cernan, Donald A. Davis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Man on the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eugene Cernan is a unique American who came of age as an astronaut during the most exciting and dangerous decade of spaceflight. His career spanned the entire Gemini and Apollo programs, from being the first person to spacewalk all the way around our world to commanding Apollo XVII, man's last mission to the moon. Between those two historic events lay more adventures than an ordinary person could imagine as Cernan repeatedly put his life, his family and everything he held dear on the altar of an obsessive desire. Written with "New York Times" bestselling author Don Davis, this is the…

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. 

Challenge to Apollo

By Asif A. Siddiqi, Nasa History Office,

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

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.

Challenge to Apollo

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.

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...

Laika

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.

Red Thunder

By John Varley,

Book cover of Red Thunder

Set in the near future, this novel imagines that the Americans and Chinese are racing to get to Mars. Meanwhile, a group of teenagers team up with an astronaut forced to retire in disgrace. One of the teens has invented a new type of drive that might just allow them to beat both governments to Mars. The book is fast-paced, fun, and shows how a team can come together to solve a problem, without ignoring the very real dangers of space travel. It also gives a nod to how technology developed for space travel can help us right here on Earth.

Red Thunder

By John Varley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“The heart-pounding space race is on . . . in this riveting SF thriller” from the Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author of Red Lightning and Rolling Thunder (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
 
As Chinese and US spacecraft compete to be the first to land on Mars, a former astronaut, his cousin, and four teens from Florida decide to take matters into their own hands. If they can quickly build their own space-worthy ship using scrap metal, appliances, and power tools, they have a chance to come from behind—thanks to an inventive new power source that can propel them to the Red…

Who am I?

After watching the moon landings as a child, I've long wondered when humans would visit a world beyond the moon and what that would be like. This led me to explore novels that imagine space travel. What's more, I pursued a career in astronomy so I could do my part to explore worlds beyond the Earth. Exploring the solar system and worlds beyond our solar system raises many questions. Some are practical, like how do we get there? Some involve what we'll learn and how the experience of visiting these worlds will change us. The books I recommend explore these themes from several different perspectives.


I wrote...

The Solar Sea

By David Lee Summers,

Book cover of The Solar Sea

What is my book about?

In the year 2074, Jonathan Jefferson became the last human to set foot on the planet Mars. Nineteen years later, Natalie Freeman violated presidential orders and brokered peace in the Middle East. The year is now 2098. Thomas Quinn discovers particles near Saturn that could provide unlimited energy to Earth. The Quinn Corporation builds a solar sail spacecraft commanded by Jefferson and Freeman to investigate. Along the way, they stop at Mars and Jupiter and find wonders and dangers beyond their imagination. Step aboard the Solar Sail Aristarchus and sail the solar sea.

Laika

By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

Beyond the science and technology that it takes to launch something into space, there’s a story with a deeply human heart. That human heart is very much the center of “Laika,” the story of the Soviet dog that was the first living creature to orbit Earth. This book is a glimpse into how space history was made, but also a sweet tribute to the dog that made it. (And if you like this book, consider picking up First in Space by James Vining, the story of space-chimp Ham, who helped pave the way for America’s Mercury 7 astronauts to fly!)

Laika

By Nick Abadzis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fiction and fact in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet space program, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and life. This intense triangle is rendered with the pitch-perfect emotionality of classics like Because of Winn-Dixie, Shiloh, and Old Yeller. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal moment in modern history, casting light on the hidden moments of deep humanity behind history. Laika's story will speak straight to your heart.

Who am I?

When I was five years old, my father sat down with me in front of the television and we watched together as the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time. Four decades later, I’ve authored a history of those early shuttle missions, been a part of developing future space missions, and, most importantly of all, watched several space firsts with my own son. Space exploration is humanity at its greatest – working together using the best of our abilities to overcome incredible challenges and improve life here on Earth – and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share that inspiration with others.


I wrote...

Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

By David Hitt, Owen Garriott, Joe Kerwin

Book cover of Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

What is my book about?

As the United States and the Soviet Union went from exploring space to living in it, a space station was conceived as the logical successor to the Apollo moon program. But between conception and execution there was the vastness of space itself, to say nothing of monumental technological challenges. Homesteading Space, by two of Skylab’s own astronauts and a NASA journalist, tells the dramatic story of America’s first space station from beginning to fiery end.

Homesteading Space is much more than a story of technological and scientific success; it is also an absorbing, sometimes humorous, often inspiring account of the determined, hardworking individuals who shepherded the program through a near-disastrous launch, a heroic rescue, and an exhausting study of Comet Kohoutek, as well as the lab's ultimate descent into the Indian Ocean. 

Moonglow

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of Moonglow

This is a memoir of sorts, but a fiction book nevertheless. Again, the philosophy of life is shown through the dying grandfather. The book highlights the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong, but also standing up for what is right, questions of personal sacrifice for the common good, and more.

Moonglow

By Michael Chabon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * A Telegraph Book of the Year * A New York Times Notable Book of the Year * A Washington Post Book of the Year * A Wall Street Journal Book of the Year * A Slate Book of the Year

'Probably Chabon's greatest, a piece of sustained writing that will be hard to see outdone in 2017' The Times

'Entirely sure footed, propulsive, the work of a master at his very best. The brilliance of Moonglow stands as a strident defence of the form itself, a bravura demonstration of the endless mutability and versatility…


Who am I?

This list is specifically “secret” philosophy books. There were plenty of novels (Victor Hugo, Milan Kundera, Robert Pirsig) that I love, but they don’t hide the fact that they’re significantly philosophy books. My degree is in philosophy (BA, UCLA), with a special interest in ethics, ethical questions. I still really love the marriage of fiction and philosophy especially when it’s done subtly and beautifully. I am the author of three books: Approaching the Natural, Raising Healthy Parents. and Six Truths. I hold a BA in Philosophy from UCLA, am a public speaker, podcaster (What Sid Thinks Podcast), certified nutritionist & running coach, Oxygen Advantage breathing instructor, and founder of Small Steppers


I wrote...

Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

By Sid Garza-Hillman,

Book cover of Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

What is my book about?

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone. We certainly have opinions about what choices someone might make to get there but we absolutely want happiness, and as much of it as possible. Six Truths is simple, accessible, cutting edge, edgy, and most of all, necessary. Sid Garza-Hillman has taken all he's learned as a nutritionist, philosopher, speaker, podcaster, Small Steps coach, ultramarathoner, father, and husband, and distilled it into six truths. Six truths that, if you live by them, will deliver you a happy life.

In Six Truths, Garza-Hillman, uses his usual funny, smart, no BS approach to helping you live your best life.

Two Sides of the Moon

By David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey

Book cover of Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race

This is a buddy story, two guys telling their parallel stories in interleaved fashion. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov flew in Earth orbit three times and made the first spacewalk. Dave Scott went to the Moon as commander of Apollo 15. They are the same age, both kids old enough to remember the Second World War. Both military pilots who might have been ordered to fight each other, who instead through the adventure of spaceflight became friends. They are thoughtful, open-minded, generous. Here, in their own words, they share their perspectives. 

Two Sides of the Moon

By David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"An extraordinary book."
---Arthur C. Clarke

Space was one of the most fiercely fought battlegrounds of the Cold War, the Moon its ultimate beachhead.

In this dual autobiography, Apollo 15 commander David Scott and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to ever walk in space, recount their exceptional lives and careers spent on the cutting edge of science and space exploration―and their participation in the greatest technological race ever―to land a man on the Moon.

With each mission fraught with perilous tasks, and each space program touched by tragedy, these parallel tales of adventure and heroism read like a modern-day…


Who am I?

I have read most of the books written about Apollo, especially those ostensibly written by my fellow participants. I have read these books for pleasure, to find out about parts of the moon effort that I did not see first-hand, and to learn what I could from the authors’ mistakes and successes — with a view to the writing of my own book. The books I have come to value the most are the books that seem to have been created for some other reason than commercial gain, the books unmarred by ghostwriting or heavy-handed editing, the books where the author’s authentic voice speaks from the page.


I wrote...

Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir

By Don Eyles,

Book cover of Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir

What is my book about?

I was in the room and my eyes and ears were open. Almost by chance, I was hired to work on the Apollo project and they handed me the most dangerous and complex part of the mission to program in the LM’s onboard computer — the lunar landing itself. My role took me to interesting places and interesting people, astronauts for instance. I knew my way around Cape Canaveral. My code figured in several inflight dramas, one of which brought me fame for finding the solution. With all this — not to speak of my counter-culture adventures in 1960s Boston — my book is bound to thrill anyone interested in the moon mission.

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