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Review: A Man on the Moon


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A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts
by Andrew Chaikin
The Folio Society, 2021
hardcover, 800 pp. (two volumes), illus.
US$225.00

The first copy of A Man on the Moon that I bought was when the book came out in 1994, timed to the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. I got a copy at a Boston bookstore just in time for a talk its author, Andrew Chaikin, gave at Boston University shortly before the book rode a wave of popularity tied to the 25th anniversary and other events, like the movie Apollo 13 that came out a year later, leading to the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Many other editions of the book followed as interest rose but inevitably crested. In the early 2000s, I found a three-volume version of the book, a lavishly illustrated edition by Time Life, on the bargain shelf of a Borders bookstore (which no longer exists) in a suburban Washington mall (which also no longer exists) for $10. The book itself, though, has stood the test of time as one of the best accounts of the Apollo missions, told with the cooperation of the astronauts who went to the Moon and walked on its surface.

As high-quality digital versions of the photos became available in the years after he first wrote the book, Chaikin explains, “I was amazed at the details I could now see; I felt they had opened a new portal I could step through to witness what the astronauts had seen and done.”

Now there is perhaps the ultimate edition of A Man on the Moon, published by The Folio Society, which produces collectors’ editions of famous works. The two-volume book, which comes in a slipcase, has the high-quality production, from paper to typefaces to binding, that one would expect from what’s effectively a luxury edition with a luxury pricetag.

To be clear, the text of the book is unchanged from earlier editions: this is not a revised or expanded version. The only new words in this version is a brief preface by Chaikin, which he uses to explain the other major change of the book: the inclusion of nearly 200 color and black-and-white photos that he curated for the book. As high-quality digital versions of the photos became available in the years after he first wrote the book, he explains, “I was amazed at the details I could now see; I felt they had opened a new portal I could step through to witness what the astronauts had seen and done.”

This is not the first illustrated edition of the book, but this version strikes a better balance between the photos and text than that earlier three volume set, where the images at times drowned out the text. Here the images are better ties to the text, and include a mix of obvious famous pictures as well as less-famous ones from the missions or training for them. The book includes fold-out color plates, such as one that combines several views of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 mission on its way to the Moon; it illustrates the spacecraft’s journey by showing our home planet get ever smaller.

The real value of A Man on the Moon, though, remains Chaikin’s account of the missions, enabled by his interviews with the Apollo astronauts. At the time he started the book, all but one of the 24 men who went to the Moon on nine Apollo missions were still alive (Apollo 13’s Jack Swigert died of cancer in 1982.) Enough times had passed for the astronauts to reflect on their journeys, but not so long that we would lose the chance to have them recount their experiences.

With the death last week of Apollo 11’s Michael Collins, fewer than half of those 24 men remain alive today, including just four of the 12 who walked on the moon: Buzz Aldrin, David Scott, Charlie Duke, and Jack Schmitt. Collins, who orbited in the command module while Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, was often called the the loneliest person given his separation from the rest of the crew, and the rest of humanity. “No, he answered, I like being my myself,” Chaikin wrote of Collins. “To a fighter pilot is was the essence of flying: alone in your craft, in control of your craft. It was nothing less than the purest form of freedom.”

As the Apollo generation passes into history, their accomplishments, and their memories, remain ably recorded in Chaikin’s book, whether it be this newest deluxe version or a dog-eared copy of the first edition.


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