Over The Moon


Over The Moon Essay, Research Paper

Over the moonThe Moon: A Biography by David Whitehouse(Review) David Whitehouse, science correspondent with the BBC, is a Moon enthusiast. Having gone through the academic ranks (he took a doctorate in radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank), here he has returned to his first love. His devotion to our natural satellite oozes from every page, and his chatty, easy style makes this a straightforward read. Whitehouse’s book is almost entirely dedicated to an aspect of human history: to the ways in which we have watched, charted, and been affected by the Moon. He starts with cave paintings and notches on bones, and then moves in a largely chronological fashion from megalithic monuments through ancient writings to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Eventually he comes to 17th-century astrono-mers sketching the lunar surface while perched at their telescope eyepieces, and then the advent of photography making definitive maps possible. The book is two-thirds of the way through before the Apollo landings are even mentioned. Along the way Whitehouse has told the stories, in brief, of dozens of figures, some well-known but others obscure. Men such as Giovanni Riccioli, the Jesuit who in 1651 gave the major lunar features the names employed today, fiercely resisting the heretics (such as Galileo) who believed the Copernican theory of the planets orbiting the Sun. In every era astronomers argued over the Moon. Later we learn about German rocketry experts being spirited off to the US at the end of the war, and the secret but abortive Soviet landing programme. This book is not about the Moon, then: it’s about people. Whitehouse discusses how the Moon has affected our species, from arguments over whether the synchronicity between the oestrous cycle and the variation of lunar brightness is just a coincidence, to the evidence for and against a link between mental illness or civil unrest and the occurrence of full moons. The author’s brimming passion for his subject is obvious, but even lacking a detailed knowledge, I picked up several factual errors. Overall, though, this is an excellent prospect for the many people who enjoyed Dava Sobel’s Longitude, and deserves to be widely read.

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