Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour
Writer: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott
Publisher: Princeton University Press
It can be very difficult to explain the mechanics of the universe to non-scientists without being condescending, yet Welcome to the Universe manages to do just that. Designed after a course taught at Princeton by three notable astrophysicists, Tyson, Strauss, and Gott help readers understand exactly what is happening in the sky above us and beyond. It’s easy to read, and what’s more, it comes in a beautiful oversized volume with glossy pages and colorful pictures that will look great on any bookshelf.
The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek (Parts 1 and 2)
Writer: Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
If you have a space fan in your life, chances are it’s Star Trek that shaped that love. I’ll admit it: I was worried when I first picked up this oral history of Star Trek (spanning two volumes: the first 25 years, the Original Series and first six movies, and the next 25 years, spanning the spin-off series, movies, and the new movie universe). I was afraid that it would feel tawdry and cheap, but that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, it only enhanced my love for the franchise and my anticipation for what’s coming next; the breadth of people Gross and Altman have spoken to over the years (including the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Gene Roddenberry, and dearly departed stars such as Leonard Nimoy, DeForrest Kelley, and James Doohan) is astounding and really provides a balanced narrative history.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Writer: Margot Lee Shatterly
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of Harvard Observatory Took Measure of the Stars
Writer: Dava Sobel
The pairing of these two books (one in paperback, one in hardcover) is perfect for anyone interested in the history of space observation and discoveries. Hidden Figures, which is now a movie starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, focuses on the black women who worked as human computers and were integral to getting American astronauts to the moon. The Glass Universe takes us back to the 19th century, to more women serving as human computers and discusses their impacts on astronomy. The contributions of women have historically been undervalued and underreported, so it’s always worth it to seek out these kinds of stories.
Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Writer: Mike Massimino
Publisher: Crown Archetype
If you’ve got an aspiring astronaut in your life (and really, it doesn’t matter what age they are—many of us will always be aspiring astronauts), Mike Massimino’s story is for them. Mike Massimino (best known for playing himself on The Big Bang Theory) grew up in a working-class family in Long Island—his dad worked for the New York City fire department. Going to space was far from the path laid out for him. But he persevered, and maintained a pretty great sense of humor along the way. Not every astronaut memoir is accessible or entertaining, but this one is both.
Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet
Writer: Leonard David
Publisher: National Geographic
StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond
Writer: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jeffrey Simons, and Charles Liu
Publisher: National Geographic
If you’re looking for big coffee table books full of gorgeous pictures, then these two books should be just the ticket. Mars is the companion book to National Geographic’s Mars TV series, and it’s a beautiful exploration of the red planet. David tackles not only how we’ll live on Mars once we get there, but profiles the big names trying to propel us into the stars. StarTalk is another companion book, this time to Tyson’s popular podcast/TV show of the same name, focusing more on pop science. Both these books would be great for kids, but really anyone would find them entertaining.
Black Hole Blues: And Other Songs from Outer Space
Writer: Janna Levin
Albert Einstein theorized about the existence of gravitational waves, and in 2016, we finally detected them. This book chronicles the long search for those waves produced when two black holes collide, which results in the release of an almost inconceivable amount of energy. Levin is a physicist, so she explains the science thoroughly, but she frames the narrative around the people involved in the discovery. It becomes a personal story, with stakes both scientific and emotional.
Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future
Writer: David Grinspoon
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
While so many of us space nerds dream of the worlds beyond our own, we have to make sure not to forget planet Earth; after all, what good is the chance to explore the stars if we don’t have a home planet to come back to? David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist who has crafted a fascinating tome on the future of planet Earth, and all life upon it. If you’re terrified of what climate change is doing to our planet, Grinspoon gives us reason to hope and plan for the future. But more than that, it’s a riveting look at the history of our planet, and the multitude of species who live on it. It’s not often that history and science is as absorbing as science fiction, yet Grinspoon has achieved it with this book.
The holiday season means great food, family, and year-end deadlines. It also means presents and getting stuff you don’t want then trying to figure out how to exchange it for something you like more. We’ve got a gift guide that just may be able to simplify all that: books for the space geeks in your life (or to put on your own list to avoid getting yet another pair of socks for Christmas).
1. Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour; 2. The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek; 3a. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race; 3b. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of Harvard Observatory Took Measure of the Stars; 4. Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe; 5a. Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet; 5b. andStarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond; 6. Black Hole Blues: And Other Songs from Outer Space; 7. Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future.
Image: StarTalk Radio, CC-BY
Swapna Krishna is a freelance writer, editor, and giant space/sci-fi geek.