Saturday, July 19, 2014


Only a dozen men have walked on the moon. It is, perhaps, the ultimate in elite accomplishment. Someday, certainly, a thirteenth Earthling will follow in their dusty gray footsteps, but it won’t be a surprise performance. So everyone should know these 12 names. They should be taught in schools—beyond Neil Armstrong. I’m not saying every elementary school student should be as enamored with space minutia as I am. I’m not saying Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff should be a required part of the curriculum, right alongside To Kill A Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer. I’m just saying this: If we’re going to insist that kids learn, say, the seven inert gases, then we may as well teach them the names of the 12 men who are the only people to have left footprints beyond Earth.

So to facilitate that education for all of us, we at the Why Not 100 offer a reading list: Twelve books written by or about the 12 men who have touched the moon.

Here they are, in chronological order of their moon moment:

Neil Armstrong

Armstrong commanded Apollo 11, which landed on the moon surface on July 20, 1969. In the long run, his name may actually outshine the George Washingtons and Nelson Mandelas of the world. The sociopolitical map of the world will evolve over the epochs, making even U.S. origins and South African apartheid remnants of a vague, academic history. But Armstrong, who shied away from the spotlight until his death in 2012 at age 82, will always be the first man to step on the surface of another heavenly body.  
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen

From a Booklist review:

For the first time, the cool, precise, and celebrity-averse Neil Armstrong has authorized a biography. Its readers cannot expect any more access to his emotional interior than the first man to walk on the moon has ever allowed, but they will learn about everything he achieved in aerospace engineering. Deflecting aerospace historian Hansen's inquiries about personal crises, such as the death of an infant daughter or his divorce, Armstrong proves disarmingly more voluble about his involvement with airplanes and spacecraft. Quelling apocrypha circulated at the time of Apollo 11 about the all-American boy who dreamed of going to the moon, Hansen follows the empirical arc of Armstrong's interest in aviation, his engineering studies at Purdue University, and his qualification as an aircraft-carrier pilot. After the Korean War, Armstrong resumed his engineering career, wrote technical papers, flew hotshot planes like the X-15, and stepped irrevocably into history with Apollo 11. Dramatizing the mission in meticulous detail, Hansen capably captures both Armstrong's expertise and his Garbo-like demurral of fame.

Buzz Aldrin

The lunar module pilot for Apollo 11 has long been the most visible of the moonwalkers, as willing to court celebrity as Armstrong was keen to avoid it. The second man to walk on the moon, he has done everything from authoring several books and lecturing worldwide to starting a company devoted to promoting his vision for the future of space exploration. Oh, and he competed on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon by Buzz Aldrin with Ken Abraham

From a Publishers Weekly review:

Picking up the threads of his acclaimed 1973 autobiography, Return to Earth, Aldrin presents as no-holds-barred account of how his celebrity, career and human weaknesses nearly destroyed his life… Millions witnessed Neil Armstrong and Aldrin become the first two people on the moon; an instant American hero, Aldrin was "greeted with ticker-tape parades" and spent the next two years, along with his fellow astronauts, as public relations assets for NASA and the Nixon administration. With a PhD from MIT, Aldrin had not only spent eight years training for the mission, but also helped developed technology needed for the mission; upon returning home from his world tour as an "unofficial space ambassador," however, he found the doors at NASA "pretty much closed"; the moon-landing program had given way to the shuttle project. That homecoming would catapult Aldrin into a decades-long struggle with alcoholism and clinical depression (both his grandfather and mother committed suicide) that broke up two marriages before psychiatric treatment and rehab put him on the road to recovery. This inspiring story exhibits Aldrin as a different, perfectly human kind of hero, giving readers a sympathetic look at a man eclipsed by his own legend.

Charles “Pete” Conrad

My favorite astronaut, and the third man to step on the moon as commander of Apollo 12 in December 1969. He was dyslexic as a child. He stood only 5-foot-6. He was the merry prankster among the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo crews. When he died tragically in motorcycle accident at age 69 in 1999, he—like many astronauts before him, was honored with a tree in the Astronaut Grove at Johnson Space Center. But Conrad often said, reflecting his personality, “If you can’t be good, be colorful.” So during the holiday season, when the rest of the astronaut trees are adorned in white lights, Conrad’s shines bright red.

Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad's Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond by Nancy Conrad and Howard Klausner.

From a Booklist review:

The late astronaut Pete Conrad had a distinguished record and a wide streak of cowboy in him. This biography by his widow and screenwriter Klausner draws on their recorded interviews with Conrad, the last completed just before his accidental death, and does him as much justice as possible. The scion of a Main Line Philadelphia family ruined by the Depression, Conrad paid for flying lessons by working at airports and went to Princeton on a navy scholarship. Highly rated as a test pilot, he walked out of the original Mercury selection process because he disliked the tests and the doctors. He returned to fly two Gemini missions, command Apollo XII (the second moon landing), and command and repair, on the spot, Skylab during its first mission.

Alan Bean

The Apollo 12 lunar module pilot spent more than a day on the surface of the moon with Pete Conrad, his commander and good buddy. Since his retirement from NASA in 1981, he has turned his rare glimpse of space exploration into an artist’s rendering of the wonder of it all. Bean is a painter. He almost exclusively paints astronauts and space scenes, sometimes sprinkling his work with a smidge of moon dust.

Apollo : An Eyewitness Account by Alan Bean and Andrew Chaikin
From a Publishers Weekly review:

With the descent of the lunar lander Intrepid, Apollo 12 astronaut Bean became the fourth man to walk on the moon. Since his retirement from NASA in 1981, Bean has devoted himself to his realist paintings; this handsome volume allows him to display both his artistic skills and his orbital experience, reproducing dozens of Bean's paintings of lunar surfaces, moonwalks, astronaut gear and so on, alongside a blow-by-blow narrative of Apollo 12, which Chaikin (The National Air and Space Museum Book of Aviation and Space Flight) has written very much from Bean's perspective. Chaikin and Bean describe the thrills and setbacks on the latter's path from naval aviator to astronaut, his first view of the blue-and-white Earth from 293,000 miles and the technical problems of making sure an American flag stays up on the moon. Final chapters track Bean's adventures with the paint and canvas he took up in 1974 ("Flying skills are so much like painting skills, it's amazing"), the exploits and close calls of other astronauts and Bean's hopes for his art and for space exploration. Short paragraphs in which Bean explains his pictures' subjects and techniques alternate with the longer segments of narrative; this format can make the whole book seem scattered, though the images, and the anecdotes, retain undeniable power. The meticulously detailed paintings themselves add warmth and a mid-19th-century softness to the photos and equipment on which many of them are based. 

Alan Shepard

The first American in space (aboard Freedom 7 on May 5, 1971) and the fifth man to walk on the moon (as commander of Apollo 14 in 1971), Shepard would be on the Mount Rushmore of U.S. astronauts, probably alongside Armstrong, Aldrin and John Glenn. He was the first one of theose four to leave this Earth permanently, dying of leukemia in 1998. He was also the first and only one of them to play golf on the moon, famously one-handing a ball into space during his time on the lunar surface.

Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Apollo Moon Landings by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbee, and Howard Benedict

From a Booklist review:

It's hard to believe, but most teens and people in their early twenties don't remember Americans walking on the moon. This book, written lovingly by two of the most respected astronauts in U.S. history, will remedy that. Journalists Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict organized the material, and they portray Shepard and Slayton as two close friends who shared the dream of many children of the 1960s: to fly in outer space. Sadly, Shepard, after becoming the first American in space in a mere hour's trip, developed inner ear problems that prevented him from going back, and Slayton's irregular heartbeat kept him from going at all. Meanwhile, President Kennedy escalated the space race to get a leg up on the Russians. Despite covering some of the same ground as Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, Shepard and Slayton vividly portray the great bond uniting the original Mercury Seven. The most terrifying chapter describes the fire on the launchpad that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts, but problems on many flights (unbeknownst to TV viewers) were only solved by the skill of the astronauts as pilots.

Edgar Mitchell

He’s the mystic among the moonwalkers. The Apollo 14 lunar module pilot spent more than 216 hours in space with Shepard and came home with a yen to pursue the study of consciousness, founding the Institute of Noetic Sciences. His book is very much a reflection of that. As the flap copy states: He was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. He intuitively sensed that his presence and that of the planet in the window were all part of a deliberate, universal process and that the glittering cosmos itself was in some way conscious. The experience was so overwhelming, Mitchell knew his life would never be the same.

The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey Through the Material and Mystical Worlds by Edgar Mitchell and Dwight Williams

From a Publishers Weekly review:

Among authors trying to bridge the gap between science and spirit, former astronaut Mitchell brings unique credentials. Originally scheduled for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, Mitchell, as told in this smooth blend of autobiography and exegesis, journeyed to the Moon in 1971 (and generated great controversy over ESP experiments he conducted on the flight). As he gazed on Earth, surrounded by blackness and an unfathomable number of stars, he experienced "an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness" that was to change his life. Within a few years, he had left NASA and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, aimed at the systematic study of the nature of consciousness. At the institute, he came to some fascinating conclusions, detailed here and based on principles of resonance, regarding a possible natural explanation for psychic powers.

David Scott

The commander of Apollo 15, Dave Scott and his lunar module pilot, Jim Irwin, were the first people to drive a lunar rover along the surface of the moon. Having served aboard Gemini 8 in 1966 and Apollo 9 in 1969, Scott eventually totaled 546 hours and 54 minutes in space. Later, he served as director of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. His fascinating book chronicles the space race—from both sides—and with a foreword by Neil Armstrong and an introduction by Tom Hanks.

Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race by David Scott and Alexei Leonov
From Tom Hanks’s introduction:

Leonov and Scott have gone to extra lengths to explain the inexplicable in Two Sides of the Moon. And thank goodness they have. Theirs was a gamble taken voluntarily and eagerly with the single-minded pursuit of earning the assignment and then getting the job done. Sometimes they were first. Often they were best. Always they were colorful. And yet each time they returned, neither man claimed to have come back a changed man who had gone into space and seen the spirit of the universe. They came back from their missions in space having seen the spirit of themselves as even more of the human beings they were before leaving our world of air, land, and water…. Leonov, the artist and Scott, the engineer/dreamer. The two of them-the Cheaters of Death.

James Irwin

Irwin was the first of the moonwalkers to pass away, succumbing to a heart attack at age 61 in 1991. Apollo 15 marked his first and only voyage into space, during which he collected more than 170 pounds of moon rocks in 1971. He left NASA soon after to become a preacher, forming a religious organization called High Flight Foundation and actually leading several expeditions to Turkey’s Mount Ararat in search of another iconic vessel—Noah’s Ark.

Destination Moon: The Spiritual and Scientific Voyage of the Eighth Man to Walk on the Moon by James Irwin

Here’s how one reviewer described Irwin’s 52-page book:

With amazing storytelling craft, James Irwin recounts his physical and spiritual journey to the moon and back. I was hooked from the first line of the prologue: "When you lean far back and look up, you can see the Earth like a beautiful, fragile Christmas tree ornament hanging against the blackness of space. It's as if you can reach out and hold it in your hand."

John Young

Young led the fifth manned moon landing mission, Apollo 16, in April 1972, when he and Charlie Duke collected 200 pounds of moon rocks and drove more than 16 miles in the lunar rover. Before that, he served on Gemini 3, Gemini 10, and Apollo 10, which orbited the moon in 1969, but did not land. He also flew two space shuttle missions, logging a whopping 835 hours in space.

Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space by John W. Young with James R. Hansen

From the publisher’s description:

He walked on the Moon. He flew six space missions in three different programs--more than any other human. He served with NASA for more than four decades. His peers called him the "astronaut's astronaut." Enthusiasts of space exploration have long waited for John Young to tell the story of his two Gemini flights, his two Apollo missions, the first-ever Space Shuttle flight, and the first Spacelab mission. Forever Young delivers all that and more: Young's personal journey from engineering graduate to fighter pilot, to test pilot, to astronaut, to high NASA official, to clear-headed predictor of the fate of Planet Earth.

Charles Duke

A retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, Duke joined NASA in 1966 and served as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 16 six years later, before retiring from NASA in 1975. He and Young deployed a cosmic ray detector and an ultraviolet camera on the lunar surface. He later went on to found organizations ranging from an investment firm called Charlie Duke Enterprises to the Duke Ministry for Christ.

Moonwalker : The True Story of an Astronaut Who Found that the Moon Wasn't High Enough to Satisfy His Desire for Success by Charlie Duke and Dotty Duke

From an review:

Charlie Duke does a nice job of telling his story from a small town in South Carolina to the surface of the Moon and back again. Duke does an admirable job of telling the story the way it happened. Knowing of his "born-again" status, I was unsure how Duke would tell the story. He is refreshingly honest about the toll the astronaut years took on his family and marriage. Only when he finds Christianity does the issue enter the book. I was pleased, as often people who find religion tend to color the facts of their life previous to their conversion in terms of how they feel later. Certainly not a tell-all book, Duke seems to have a genuine like for those he works, and ultimately travels to the moon, with. If you are looking for a book that deals with the "everyman" who was fortunate enough to be chosen to visit the Moon, then "Moonwalker" is for you.

Eugene Cernan

Gene Cernan was the 11th man to walk on the moon, and he likes to say that he was actually the last man to set foot on it as well. The Apollo 17 commander made two space flights (Gemini 9 and Apollo 10) before reaching the moon on the sixth and final lunar landing mission in December 1972. He and lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt spend more than three days on lunar surface, and his moonprints were the last—so far.

The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space by Eugene Cernan and Donald A. Davis

From Publishers Weekly

Gemini and Apollo astronaut Cernan, helped by Davis (A Father's Rage, etc.), takes readers with him on one great space adventure after another, including Gemini 9's "Spacewalk from Hell," Apollo 1's fire, Snoopy's hair-raising swoop by the lunar surface. Readers experience the agony of life-or-death decision making in the Apollo 13 control room, exult with Cernan and geologist Jack Schmitt throughout the mission of Apollo 17 and meet legendary characters of the astronaut corps and the technical and political leaders who shared their glory. Cernan reveals the risk-taking, competitive personality and oversized self-confidence that drove his success as a test pilot and astronaut. He also acknowledges his failings as a husband to his first wife, Barbara, whom he presents as a quiet, strong homefront heroine who always found the right words in public despite her private difficulties.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt

He can call himself the last man to set foot on the moon for the first time. Schmitt was a trained geologist, the only moonwalker without military experience. But he helped train all of the astronauts in geology. Apollo 17 was his only space flight, but he continued to work at NASA after the Apollo program as chief of the scientist-astronauts and then as NASA Assistant Administrator for Energy Programs. In 1975, he ran for election in the U.S. Senate in the state of New Mexico, where he won as a Republican and served a six-year term.

Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space by Harrison Schmitt

From the publisher:

Former NASA Astronaut Harrison Schmitt advocates a private, investor-based approach to returning humans to the Moon—to extract Helium 3 for energy production, to use the Moon as a platform for science and manufacturing, and to establish permanent human colonies there in a kind of stepping stone community on the way to deeper space. With governments playing a supporting role—just as they have in the development of modern commercial aeronautics and agricultural production—Schmitt believes that a fundamentally private enterprise is the only type of organization capable of sustaining such an effort and, eventually, even making it pay off.

So there you have it—12 very different men (celebrities and seekers, geologists and generals) and a dozen books offering insight into the astronauts who boldly ventured where no man had gone before and where, unfortunately, no one has gone since.


  1. Jim Irwin also wrote a book titled "To Rule the Night." Exceptionally well written in his own voice. On David Scott's book "Two Sides of the Moon," this book should be mandatory reading in last year of high school and/or sometime in college. We never heard about the OTHER side. Here Alexei Leonov gives his side. Powerfully written and masterfully told. Seriously.... MANDATORY reading!!! In fact I want to go back and read it again. It's THAT good,

    1. Kathleen, belated thanks for that input. Adding it to my to-read list...