REVIEW: Our Moon by Rebecca Boyle

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An intimate look at the Moon and its relationship to life on Earth–from the primordial soup to the Artemis launches–from an acclaimed Scientific American and Atlantic contributor

Far from being a lifeless ornament in the sky, the Moon holds the key to some of science’s central questions, and in this fascinating account of our remarkable satellite, award-winning science journalist Rebecca Boyle shows us why it is the secret to our success.

The Moon stabilizes the Earth’s tilt toward the Sun, creating reliable seasons. The durability of this tilt over millennia stabilizes our climate. The Moon pulls on the ocean, driving the tides. It was these tides that mixed nutrients in the sea, enabling the evolution of complex life and, ultimately, bringing life onto land.

But the Moon also played a pivotal role in our conceptual development. While the Sun helped humans to mark daily time, hunters and gatherers used the phases of the Moon to count months and years, allowing them to situate themselves in time and plan for the future. Its role in the development of religion—Mesopotamian priests recorded the Moon’s position to make predictions about the Moon god–created the earliest known empirical, scientific observation.

Boyle deftly reframes the history of scientific discovery through a lunar lens, from Mesopotamia to the present day. Touching on ancient astronomers including Claudius Ptolemy; ancient philosophers from Anaxagoras to Plutarch; the scientific revolution of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler; and the lunar fiction of writers like Jules Verne–which inspired Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist who succeeded in landing humans on the Moon–Boyle charts our path with the Moon from the origins of human civilization to the Apollo landings and up to the present.

Even as astronauts around the world prepare to return to the Moon, opening up new frontiers of discovery, profit, and politics, Our Moon brings the Moon down to Earth.

Review

I’ve read a lot of books about space exploration and specifically NASA’s Apollo missions but what interested me about reading this book was that it would cover more about the Moon than just that. Earth has a long history with the Moon and I wanted to read about that. The book is divided into sections, some of which worked better for me than others. Be aware that for the most part, it has a very European/Middle Eastern focus with only brief references to Chinese astronomers and a slight detour to discuss First Puebloans in North America.

It may be pedantic of me but there are some flubs that I hope have been corrected before publication. Boyle discusses how the Moon retains a geologic record of asteroid and meteor impacts while, due to wind, water and subduction, the Earth does not have any.

“Combined with wind, water is a destroyer of worlds. Entire mountain ranges rise and fall through the work of water. It also erases craters. Though the timing and duration of the beating are still up for debate, we know Earth was bombarded by asteroids long ago, and yet there are no battle scars to show for it.”

Um yes, there are. Vredefort Crater, Chicxulub Crater, Sudbury Crater, Popigai Crater, Manicouagan Crater, Acraman Crater, Morokweng Crater, Kara Crater, Beaverhead Crater, Meteor Crater, and the Chesapeake Bay Crater are just the top eleven ones. Also there are some things such as not listing BCE/CE/or adding no notation at all to certain dates as well as some other pesky things like listing a temperature with both Fahrenheit and Kelvin degrees in one place but then only one in the other. Why? Okay I admit that these are inconsequential but if you’re writing a book with facts, get them correct and consistent so I don’t begin to doubt anything else in the book.

The first section is mostly science based and focused on astronomy. There’s lots of science here including various past and present ideas about how our Moon was formed, how planets were (probably) formed, and many scientific terms used for all this. Apollo missions feature in it a lot. For some reason I had difficulty plowing my way through this part and had to force myself to focus a lot.

Part two is what I view as more anthropologically focused and I loved it. Could the moon have influenced the development of life on Earth? Then once the tidal pool of amino acids yielded life, the wildly swinging tides of areas with lots of fossil evidence of the lobed fishes might have been where life crawled out of the oceans and onto land. The author makes some compelling arguments and backs them up with information about the scientific experiments being done now as well as fossils that have been discovered.

Boyle visits locations (mainly in Scotland) and discusses discoveries (such as the Nebra Sky Disc) which point out how Neolithic and Bronze Age Europeans built spaces and things to possibly track the Moon to tell future time and correct drifts between solstices and Moon based time keeping. The narrative then shifts to ancient Mesopotamia and their Moon God and how a king’s devotion to this deity might have led to the downfall of the Babylonian empire. Ancient Greeks watched the Moon’s movements but they, along with Ptolemy, and the view of an infallible Bible screwed up European beliefs for over a millennium. It took until the late sixteenth and into the seventeenth centuries to begin to accept Moon and planetary movements as they really are.

The book finishes up with a bit of discussion on if/should/will we journey back to the Moon and the implications of this. Businesses are the ones driving this and businesses are usually for profit. Is it right to turn the Moon into a business venture and who will profit? As I said, I enjoyed some parts of the book more than others but it gave me plenty of cool information and things to think about. B-

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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