2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: Space and Astronomy

Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles space and astronomy selections.

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles about space and astronomy.

Book Cover.Outstanding Academic Titles 2021 -Mars
O’Meara, Stephen James. Reaktion Books, 2020

O’Meara, a prolific author and expert astronomical observer, describes humanity’s fascination with Mars from ancient times to the present era of extensive robotic exploration. The book offers a popular yet accurate and well-referenced account of what that planet meant to ancient societies, how Mars studies affected the development of early modern physics and astronomy, and how the search for evidence of life, particularly fossil microorganisms, guides contemporary exploration. Despite the broad coverage of Mars topics, controversies, and investigations, the author does not shirk details. Appendixes of tabular data include summary information on more than 40 attempted missions to Mars, including launch failures and other mishaps. Three more spacecraft arrived at Mars even while the book was under review. This work will serve as a resource as readers follow new developments from those very probes over the next few years. O’Meara also describes preparations for the eventual human visits that, although long projected for the future, are beginning to seem possible within many readers’ lifetimes. A concluding chapter explains how and when to observe Mars with home telescopes. View on Amazon

2. Meteorite: how stones from outer space made our world
Gregory, Tim. Basic Books, 2020
Book Cover.Outstanding Academic Titles 2021 -Meteorite: how stones from outer space made our world

Gregory (British Geological Survey) offers a book about exogeology. More specifically it is about how the study of the material and chemical properties of meteorites has allowed us to understand the geology of planets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies, as well as the history of our solar system and its surrounding environs. Given such a specialized topic, and in spite of all the necessary jargon involved, the text is a pleasure to read and easy to understand. Whether embarking on a detailed discussion of the chemical compositions of particular meteors, introducing the intricate family tree of meteor types, or explaining how meteors have allowed us to understand the earliest formation of the solar system, Gregory takes up complicated topics and explains them in plain English. He draws the reader in so well that, by the end, it is cringe-inspiring each time he describes how yet another meteorite was dissected or entirely decomposed in order to study it—a reaction evoked because the reader has come to appreciate the extent to which some of these objects are rare and precious. View on Amazon

3. Scramble for the skies: the great power competition to control the resources of outer space
by Namrata Goswami and Peter A. Garretson Lexington Books, 2020
Book Cover. Outstanding Academic Titles 2021 -Scramble for the skies: the great power competition to control the resources of outer space

Goswami (independent scholar) and Garretson (American Foreign Policy Council) are directly involved in space policy research, and it shows. Addressing a perceived emerging great-power competition in outer space, they target the policymaker audience. Exploring five cases—the US, China, India, Luxembourg, and the UAE—they trace the roles of myth, history, and strategic culture in shaping epistemic communities, space resource ambitions, and policies pursued within each state. Working from textual sources and interviews, they propose multiple scenarios for the emerging struggle, and spell out the ideological and strategic approach expected from each state. Hypotheticals run from the China-dominant to the India-dominant (“Space Raj”) and include the US-dominant (“Protector of the Realm”) scenario, as well as a number of bipolar and balancing options. The authors’ expected configuration of world powers in 2060 is China (number one), US (two), and India (three), with a likely crisis before 2028 and a critical “fork in the road” circa 2047. The appendixes outline the authors’ assumptions and theory for academic readers, discussing why they adopted their approach and how their work fits into a larger research project. View on Amazon

4. Spacefarers: how humans will settle the Moon, Mars, and beyond
Ned. by Qiuying Wang and JeaWanjek, Christopher. Harvard, 2020
Book Cover.Outstanding Academic Titles 2021 - Spacefarers: how humans will settle the Moon, Mars and beyond

Space journalist Wanjek (also the author of Bad Medicine, CH, May’03, 40-5249) here soberly assesses what it will take for humankind to survive off the Earth, both nearby and in interstellar space: “There can be nothing instant or magical in the establishment of space infrastructure.” This reader readily agrees: leaving the Earth will be difficult. Not only must humans overcome technical difficulties (radiation exposure and low gravity among the most challenging), they also must have good reasons to spend the enormous amounts of money and time required. Comparing the potential hardships to those faced in previous human endeavors (e.g., explorations in Antarctica), Wanjek examines both technical challenges and motivations, and projects what will be needed to sustain life in specific space environments. His text is backed up by formal references to state-of-the-art knowledge (in 20 pages of notes). Wanjek concludes that while life on Earth may have its problems, living elsewhere is not necessarily going to be better. But what we learn in space can make our lives better here on Earth. View on Amazon.

5. The chemical evolution of phosphorus: an interdisciplinary approach to astrobiology
Barber, Enrique Maciá. Apple Academic Press, 2020
Book Cover.Outstanding Academic Titles 2021 -The chemical evolution of phosphorus:an interdisciplinary approach to astrobiology

This book falls within the discipline of chemical evolution, for some, equivalent to the study of abiogenesis (the spontaneous origination of life from inorganic or non-living matter). Barber (Complutense Univ. of Madrid) employs the element phosphorous as a central topic worthy of study in itself, but also as a bridging device through which to trace some of the major tenets of chemical evolution. Phosphorus is well known for its role in biomolecular structure, in particular its contribution to biological control of energy within the cell. The fate of phosphorous in Earth’s ecology is tightly coupled with the distribution and dynamics of organic matter. Barber explores these and other topics in a manner intended to accommodate beginning students and experts alike, including several introductory chapters that provide basic orientation to cosmology and physical chemistry. The text continues with more advanced discussions of nucleosynthesis as well as stellar and planetary distribution. The core topic of prebiotic chemical evolution is presented in chapter 8. Next is a chapter on man’s use of phosphorous in technological applications, followed by a coda (chapter 10) summing up Barber’s perspective on the “phosphorus enigma.” View on Amazon.

Read more about Choice Outstanding Academic Titles.

Sign up for the weekly 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles enewsletter

Between December and June you’ll receive a weekly enewsletter from Choice highlighting a themed snippet from the 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list.

Sign Up Now

Enjoying our reviews? Academic librarians may sign up for a complimentary trial of Choice Reviews for their institution.

*Trial limited to academic institutions that have not had a trial/subscription to Choice Reviews in the past 24 months. The offer is limited to institutional trials only, not available to individuals/publishers.

Read previous Outstanding Academic Title list snippets.