In light of yesterday’s magnificent lunar eclipse, we take a look at two celestial-related books from Yale University Press.
Yesterday astronomers throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia were treated to the longest lunar eclipse in 11 years. The “totality”, which is when the lunar face is completely covered, lasted 100 minutes, and for those in certain parts of the world, a red moon was visible.
Whether you believe events such as these hold special astrological significance, or simply that they are beautiful spectacles to behold, the moon has always been an enchanting presence that has influenced writers, poets and artists for generations.
This ethereal sway has inspired Bernd Brunner whose book Moon: A Brief History presents a cultural examination of Earth’s moon, through history, science, and literature, from ancient times onwards. From Werewolves and Wernher von Braun to Stonehenge and the sex lives of sea corals, aboriginal myths, and an Anglican bishop, Brunner weaves variegated information into an enchanting glimpse of Earth’s closest celestial neighbour, whose mere presence inspires us to wonder what might be ‘out there’. Going beyond the discoveries of contemporary science, Brunner presents an unusual cultural assessment of our complex relationship with Earth’s lifeless, rocky satellite. As well as offering an engaging perspective on such age-old questions as ‘What would Earth be like without the moon?’ Brunner surveys the moon’s mythical and religious significance and provokes existential soul-searching through his lunar lens.
Drawing on materials from different cultures and epochs, Brunner walks readers down a moonlit path illuminated by more than seventy-five vintage photographs and illustrations. From scientific discussions of the moon’s origins and its ‘chronobiological’ effects on the mating and feeding habits of animals, to an illuminating interpretation of Bishop Francis Godwin’s 1638 novel The Man in the Moone, Brunner’s ingenious and interdisciplinary explorations recast a familiar object in an entirely original and unforgettable light and will change the way we view the nighttime sky.
Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth by Robert Poole is a very different space-related book. Rather than looking up at the lunar surface from Earth, this remarkable book tells the story of the first photographs of Earth from space and the totally unexpected impact of those images. The Apollo ‘Earthrise’ and ‘Blue Marble’ photographs were beamed across the world some forty years ago. They had an astounding effect, Robert Poole explains, and in fact transformed thinking about the Earth and its environment in a way that echoed throughout religion, culture, and science. Gazing upon our whole planet for the first time, we saw ourselves and our place in the universe with new clarity.
Poole delves into new areas of research and looks at familiar history from fresh perspectives. With intriguing anecdotes and wonderful pictures, he examines afresh the politics of the Apollo missions, the challenges of whole Earth photography, and the story of the behind-the-scenes struggles to get photographs of the Earth put into mission plans. He traces the history of imagined visions of Earth from space and explores what happened when imagination met reality. The photographs of Earth represented a turning point, Poole contends. In their wake, Earth Day was inaugurated, the environmental movement took off, and the first space age ended. People turned their focus back toward Earth, toward the precious and fragile planet we call home.
Moon: A Brief History and Earthrise are available now in both hardback and paperback from Yale University Press. If you are interested in books on the universe, take a look at a recent blog article on cosmology books.