Review of ‘The Moon: A History for the Future’ by Oliver Morton

I’m a big fan of the Moon, so this book very much appealed to me. It’s a science book which also touches upon economics, politics, science fiction and the author’s opinions.

The writing style of this book is quite strange. Sometimes the author explains theories and scientific facts in a straightforward way. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent. Sometimes he seems to wander through a dream world and forgets he’s writing a book that people might actually want to understand. It’s certainly unusual, but it doesn’t always make sense. I enjoyed some chapters more than others. The quality of my reading experience varied so much. The low point was probably when Elon Musk was discussed and despite admiration of his achievements being expressed, described as a ‘prick’ several times (the author has met him). I felt that incidents like this lowered the tone. I also thought there was too much emphasis on Robert Heinlein’s book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. While we are on the subject of books, someone needs to tell Oliver Morton or his editor that book titles should be in italics and not quotation marks. It was very annoying to see this basic error throughout. Someone else must have compiled the reference list, however, as the titles are correct there.

I found the chapter on the Apollo missions to be the most engaging. It was also brilliant to learn things about the Moon that I didn’t know before, particularly its geology and the theories about its formation. Generally I did like this book. There are some really thought-provoking paragraphs and an interesting use of imagery in the more lyrical moments. There are a few diagrams but no photographs. If you just want facts and lovely pictures of the Moon, then this isn’t the book for you. I suspect that there’s nothing else out there like this book right now. The content is slightly out of date already as it was written in 2018 and mentions events which may take place in 2019, but I would think that it’s still the most up to date commercially-published book about the Moon and the practicalities of future missions.

First published in 2019. This edition published in 2020.


8 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Moon: A History for the Future’ by Oliver Morton”

  1. Great review – interesting about titles being in italics or quotes as I think certain style guides in the US do differ on this. If you do like the moon then I would suggest A Man on The Moon by Andrew Chaikin which is the whole story of the Apollo missions. It is a truly wonderful book and (in my view) will not be bettered for a long time, though its focus is on the voyages of the astronauts rather than the moon itself – but there’s still a lot of moon stuff in it!!!

    1. Thanks! Hmm, maybe I’m just ignorant about conventions in American writing then… Thank you for the recommendation, will add to my list! I am a bit ‘Mooned out’ at the moment but when I get interested again I’ll check this one out.

    2. Nice review! Found it while hunting for reviews of this book & more broadly for source material for a little film. I’m fascinated with the moon & have become curious about why, and why so many other people are as well.

      For another great book about the Apollo program, try Charles Murray & Catherine Bly Cox’s _Apollo: The Race to the Moon_. Preceding Chaikin’s book by five years, it traces the space program to its roots and goes deep with interviews with rank-and-file aerospace industry, NACA, and NASA figures who brought the dream of human spaceflight to life, and made it real. Wow — it’s a beautiful production. It led me to other and more specialized books like Sy Liebergot’s _Apollo EECOM_ (which is getting hard to find). Murray & Cox’s book is so good, it will invite rereading and does a great service in bringing so many otherwise potentially lost stories together and making them available to all of us who could not be there.

      Oliver Morton’s book sounds interesting now. I actually kind of enjoy obscure wanderings through dream worlds & tangents — but nuts & bolts of book production & the care that goes into it matter to me. So, when I hear about books being cited set off by quotation marks rather than italics or underlining . . .

      It sounds like the Economist may be applying the Associated Press’s AP Stylebook, which uses contrarian conventions apparently designed for newspapers & results in books etc. being cited in quotation marks as opposed to italics. It makes the reading experience like a White House press conference. In little ways and large I think AP Style does for American culture what the New York Times did for the 2016 US presidential election. It’s befogging: lazy-minded stylistic tics compelled upon writers and readers alike in a great leveling both of facts with falsity and of long works of fiction with short. AP Style is imposed upon institutions that conform their public communications to the requirements of the press release. “The first draft of history.” Good grief! Well, maybe we are all living not in the Matrix but in one extended typographical error.

      1. Hello and thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found my review interesting and I hope it kind of helps a little for your research. Thanks for the Murray & Cox recommendation, I will keep it in mind. I’m sure that Morton’s book will be worth reading for you, even though there are some issues with it. I really don’t know anything about the conventions of AP other press styles, it was annoying but isn’t the sole reason not to pick up the book. Wishing you all the best with your project.

  2. Great review, thank you for it! I have been on a lookout for a good non-fiction book about the Moon for quite some time now, but was only finding tepid or very negative reviews of some books about the Moon. This book sounds like I could enjoy it because it takes a comprehensive approach and talks about various topics. Still, I do believe that THE book about the Moon is still to be written.

    1. You’re welcome! 🙂 This one is certainly interesting although the writing is hit and miss, I feel. You’re right, the definitive book on the Moon has not been written yet.

  3. Thanks for the attention. I love “Sometimes he seems to wander through a dream world and forgets he’s writing a book that people might actually want to understand.” — its at the same time a fair criticism, perceptive and, frankly, one of the things that keeps me writing.

    As commenters point out, the book takes an American approach to book titles, having been edited in the US. That said, this is, as it happens, also the approach that The Economist takes to book titles.

    Fully endorse the praise for Andy Chaikin and for the Murray and Cox book. As to the definitive book — it won’t be written until there has been more lived experience of the place

    1. Thank you for your comment – I feel somewhat nervous when an author reads one of my critical reviews! Glad it was useful for you to read. Point taken about the editing style. It is exciting to imagine that in the future, assuming there are still books, someone could actually write a book about the moon… while living on the moon.

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