The best books about the Universe

5 authors have picked their favorite books about the Universe 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).

Universe

By Dorling Kindersley,

Book cover of Universe

I love books full of facts and figures, and for astronomers, this is one of the best. Now in its fourth edition (the first appeared in 2005), Universe (subtitled The Definitive Visual Guide) harnesses a team of expert writers with Dorling Kindersley’s designers, editors, and researchers to produce a sumptuously illustrated review of the Universe from the Earth to the Big Bang, including extensive sections on the night sky and how to view it. Dorling Kindersley’s books are natural successors to the great Reader’s Digest reference books of my childhood. If you want an encyclopedia of the Universe, this is the one to have.

Who am I?

I am an author, editor, lecturer, and sometime broadcaster on astronomy and space. My early interest in the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and interstellar communication led me to write my first books, Worlds Beyond (1975) and Messages from the Stars (1978). This interest also led me to investigate UFO sightings, but I soon realized that their explanation lies in human misperception and not ETs. My investigation and explanation of the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO case of December 1980, widely regarded as one of the top-ten cases worldwide and sometimes known as Britain's Roswell, can be found hereIn conjunction with the outstanding Dutch celestial cartographer Wil Tirion, I have produced two standard observing guides for amateur astronomers. 


I wrote...

Star Tales

By Ian Ridpath,

Book cover of Star Tales

What is my book about?

The history and mythology of the constellations from ancient Greek times to the present. The 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the second century AD survived unchanged until the end of the 16th century, when Dutch explorers added 12 new constellations in the southern sky that was below the horizon from Greece. Later astronomers added more constellations to fill in the gaps so that we have ended up with 88 constellations filling the sky from pole to pole.

Star Tales recounts the Greek and Roman myths associated with the 48 original constellations, and tells the story of how the others were added, along with notes on some proposed constellations that fell by the wayside for various reasons. 

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

By Carlos Hernandez,

Book cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

This delightfully strange sci-fi romp opens with Cuban-American budding magician Sal Vidon fending off a bully by summoning a raw chicken from another universe, and things only get wackier from there. Among the multi-dimensional hijinks and unusual characters (including a sentient and sarcastic entropy sweeper), Sal stands out as a memorable middle-grade protagonist who’s comfortable and secure in all his weird glory.

Who am I?

When I was in school, I often struggled to figure out where I “fit”. Yeah, I know that’s a common struggle among angsty teens. But as a biracial, bisexual kid who loved basketball and books, I didn’t feel totally at home in any of the stereotypical Breakfast Club-style categories that showed up even in many of the books I read: jock, nerd, prep, etc. Now, as a dad, coach, and writer, I know those boxes aren’t real. I’m passionate about giving kids stories that challenge old ideas about what boys are “supposed” to be and help them explore the full range of who they can be.


I wrote...

Thanks a Lot, Universe

By Chad Lucas,

Book cover of Thanks a Lot, Universe

What is my book about?

Brian has always been anxious, but things get worse when he and his brother are placed in foster care. Ezra notices Brian pulling away and wants to help, but he worries his friends might figure out he has a crush on Brian. But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra takes the leap and reaches out. Both boys must decide if they're willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they'd rather hide. If they can be brave, they might find the best in themselves—and each other.

"A glorious ode to the beauty of pre-teen friendship…. By far my favorite middle-grade novel of 2021!" -- Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Clean Getaway

Space Opera

By Catherynne M. Valente,

Book cover of Space Opera

Oh. My. Flipping gods turning cartwheels. This is my book.

Oookay, now I got that out of my system, the world. Or rather, the universe. All of it. In this universe, all intelligent life very nearly wiped itself out. In the smoking rubble of the universe, everyone decided that the best way to answer the question 'who is people, and who is meat?' with music. In this universe, teeth and claws and big, big guns aren't the only answer to survival. Sometimes, being unbearably cute and fragile and setting off every maternal instinct in every species is the answer. Or being made out of stuff so inedible that nobody bothers is. Or, in the case of humanity, being very, very odd is.

And we are odd. And beautiful. And stupid. And so is the universe.

The plot is direct: sing, or die. But in that simple arc is packed a…


Who am I?

I come from a reservation town in Wisconsin, and make my livelihood as a horticulturist in the water-strapped state of Colorado. I’m mix-race and LGBT. These influences have shaped what I look for in stories. I write and seek to read about communities in which the person creating medicine and the person growing food is just as important as the fighter, because let me tell you: if you don’t have the means to make food and heal wounds, all the guns in the world won’t save you. I particularly appreciate stories that explore ecology, agriculture, and plant science in innovative ways. These make my little horticulture-geek heart sing.


I wrote...

The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild)

By O.E. Tearmann,

Book cover of The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild)

What is my book about?

It's 2155, and seven corporations call the shots on the land that was the United States of America. Democracy is dead. The Corporations run the City Grids for a profit and own their worker's bodies and souls.

But there are people fighting for a change. There’s a unit in the resistance, nicknamed the Wildcards. Officially Democratic State Force Base 1407, the Wildcards are fighters in the war to bring democracy back. They're everything the Corporations despise: dreamers and fighters, punks and freaks and geeks who won't be told what to be or who to love. They've come up every walk of life to become the best unit the Democratic State Force has and the family every one of them needs. And they are taking the Corps down, one day at a time. Strap in for a series that's been called 'Firefly for the cyberpunk genre'. Hang on tight.

Marianne Dreams

By Catherine Storr,

Book cover of Marianne Dreams

A survival book list should definitely contain at least one treasure from your childhood. This one never left me and it’s a book I return to for its haunting, beautiful, disturbing depiction of Marianne, the little girl who dreams what she draws. Battling against a mysterious, unnamed illness, she escapes from the daily monotony by drawing a house, and a boy, and some sentinel stones. Slowly, this dreamworld becomes her reality. As the children struggle to break out of their house, surrounded by them, the stony watchers, the reader is dimly aware that it mirrors their fight to recover from their sickness. Lyrical, very scary, and a cliffhanger ending like no other, it is deservedly a classic.

I first read it when I was 10, the exact same age as Marianne (the story begins on her birthday), and I have reread it for the umpteenth time forty years later.…


Who am I?

Both my books have a survival theme. Whether it’s foraging for mushrooms, wild camping, or trying to survive lockdown, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between endurance and creativity; what happens when humans are pushed to their limits. After teaching English in a secondary school for 25 years, I decided that I wanted to write a book of my own. I hid away in my caravan in West Wales, living off tomato soup and marshmallows, to write The IslandThe books on this list represent the full gamut of survival: stripping yourself raw, learning nature’s lore, healing, falling, getting back up again. Ultimately, to read is to escape into story. To read is to survive.


I wrote...

The Island

By Olivia Levez,

Book cover of The Island

What is my book about?

Frances is alone on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. She must find water and food. She must survive. And when she is there, she also thinks about the past. The things that she did before. The things that made her a monster. Nothing is easy. Survival is hard. And so is being honest about what happened before. Slowly, Frances learns to survive and see that the future is worth fighting for.

The Island is a gripping and thoughtful story about a girl who didn’t choose the life she has but digs deep to become the person she always wanted to be. All is not lost but some things are hard to find.

It Started with a Big Bang

By Floor Bal, Sebastiaan Van Doninck (illustrator),

Book cover of It Started with a Big Bang: The Origin of Earth, You and Everything Else

It Started with a Big Bang: The Origin of Earth, You and Everything Else is another picture book that covers the same territory for the very young as The Stuff of Stars. The writing is conversational and accessible. The illustrations are compelling. The two books read side by side would support and inform one another.  


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

First Light, First Life

By Paul Fleischman, Julie Paschkis (illustrator),

Book cover of First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story (Worldwide Stories)

This is a picture book with vibrant illustrations that takes on the topic of creation. It does so, however, not from a scientific perspective but from a mythic one. In a cohesive and fascinating narrative, Fleischman weaves together tales from around the world, identifying each to its source. And yet he emerges with a single story, a story that will capture readers of all ages.


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

How Did It All Start? Where Did We Come From?

By Biku Ghosh,

Book cover of How Did It All Start? Where Did We Come From?

This fascinating book presents science side by side with creation stories drawn from every part of the world. Ghosh’s scientific explanations of the origins of our universe are succinct and clear. He tells us what is known about our beginnings, what is supposed, and what we do not know and may never understand. And he lays out creation stories from many parts of the world along with information about the cultures from which those stories came. How Did It All Start? is perfect for older children or for adults who want to deepen their understanding of both the science and the myths that surround our beginnings.


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

The Ship We Built

By Lexie Bean,

Book cover of The Ship We Built

This heartbreaking and powerful novel tells the story of fifth-grader Rowan, who isn’t a girl even though everyone thinks he is, but also isn’t the “right kind” of boy. At night, his dad comes into his room and does things Rowan can’t talk about with anyone. Silenced or ignored by everyone around him, Rowan writes letters expressing his thoughts, feelings, and dreams; he attaches them to balloons and sends them out into the universe. When he befriends a classmate who is as much of an outsider as he is, Rowan slowly begins to open his heart, and to speak up. I loved this novel both because of Rowan’s determination to be who he knows he is and because of the unexpected support he finds on his journey.


Who am I?

In That’s What Friends Do, the #MeToo experience that Sammie’s mom shares with Sammie is my story. I was thirteen. I never told anyone. Even as I started writing my novel, it didn’t occur to me to share with my husband, or my teenage children, my experience. But one evening, as the #MeToo movement was exploding in the media, I was sitting around a dinner table with several other couples. All of the women had had a #MeToo experience. Most of us were young teens when it happened. Shame and guilt had kept us silent for far too long. My novel – and the others on my list – are working to break through that silence.


I wrote...

That's What Friends Do

By Cathleen Barnhart,

Book cover of That's What Friends Do

What is my book about?

Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s flirting make Sammie feel uncomfortable—and David so jealous that he decides to make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on. But things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened. As rumors fly around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.

The City and the Stars

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of The City and the Stars

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.


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 I Inside

By Alan Dean Foster,

Book cover of The I Inside

What would you do if you were just an average, boring man? Living an average boring life. But then you found you had incredible powers. Not little by little... but full-on fire hose-level powers. Then you found out that all you knew about yourself, and your life were lies. And everyone wants you. This is another novel where the protagonist finds himself running for his life or freedom through the universe. Just one this time.

This book appealed to the escapist in me. Just as every teenager wants to be special or miraculous, this was the epitome of a normal man finding he was definitely not normal and trying to live with the consequences. It’s a pretty common theme, but this story took it and ramped it up to a level 10 on the excitement meter.


Who am I?

I’ve been an avid reader since I could open a book. The stories I’ve mentioned may have been a kick in the rear that made me realize how much I love science fiction and fantasy... with that little twist of magic that can send your imagination flying through the universe, but naturally it didn’t start there. When I was creating worlds, or playing through my friend’s worlds with D&D or Palladium, I always knew I wanted to share them with others. Because, if I can make people love my stories... maybe, just maybe... they’ll be inspired to write a story I’ll read and love.


I wrote...

A Prison of Worlds

By Daniel Ruth,

Book cover of A Prison of Worlds

What is my book about?

His friends are dead and now Derek is trapped as a human and branded by magic. Thrown out of his own reality he has to find a way to break his bindings and find a way home. Although he is an accomplished psychic Derek realizes that perhaps this may be the wrong skill set to bring to bear on ancient magics and devilish dragons. 

Now he has to explore the very building blocks of magic to take control of his destiny. Mad mages, hordes of demons, and unfortunate explosions follow him as he attempts to save the world. Which begs the question, what does happen after the apocalypse? 

Or, view all 41 books about the Universe

New book lists related to the Universe

All book lists related to the Universe

Bookshelves related to the Universe