Monday, March 24, 2008

The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins, by Bea Uusma Schyffert

I was a whole 5 pages into this book before my eyes misted over. It's about Michael Collins, the guy who stayed in the spacecraft Columbia while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went down and walked around on the moon.

Michael Collins was surely one of the most appealing characters in Opie's documentary about the astronauts, In the Shadow of the Moon. He had a great sense of humor and a staggering sense of perspective. Possibly the kind of perspective you only get from having been to the dark side of the moon FOURTEEN TIMES.

This book really nails it. It is a satisfying combination of minutiae (Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was Moon), personal revelation (a note Collins scribbled to himself from the dark side, describing the immensity of his aloneness, reveals a facility with language and a self-awareness I would not have expected from a clean-cut astronaut), and quantitative information (700 switches, 20 pounds of checklists, 11 minutes 42 seconds from launch pad to space, Collins's salary was $17,147). Every other page is a full-page, full-bleed illustration, diagram, or photograph.

The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon was originally published in Sweden, in 1999. The English translation showed up in 2003, but I still don't know how it snuck into my library without me seeing it until a few weeks ago.

It is a marvelous piece of work, simple enough for my little boys to understand, engrossing enough for a 42-year-old librarian to enjoy. It is full of tidbits such as the following snatch of conversation between the astronauts who are sitting in quarantine after their return to earth:

As they watch a taped recording of the moon landing, Buzz suddenly turns to Neil and says: "Neil, we missed the whole thing!"
Don't miss this book.

And don't miss the rest of the books reviewed for Nonfiction Monday. Anastasia Suen rounds them all up on Picture Book of the Day.

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