“Riders on the Earth together”: APOLLO 8: THE MISSION THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING, by Martin Sandler

Lynn: Here at Bookends, we do our best to review books in the old-fashioned sense, by using literary standards and keeping personal responses out of the mix as much as possible. For this review of Apollo 8: the Mission that Changed Everything (2018) by Martin W. Sandler, I want to say strongly that our literary standards were met from start to finish—make no mistake about that. But this review reflects my personal response more than usual.

Apollo 8: the Mission that Changed Everything by Martin W. SandlerI knew I would be interested in this story but I was unprepared for how much I would be engaged by it and how much it would make me reflect on our current situation. Apollo 8 was truly a mission that changed everything in terms of how the people of Earth saw their planet. As the years have passed and the dramatic events of later missions claimed headlines and made history, this mission faded in many people’s minds—mine included! All spaceflight has been within my lifetime and I have clear, strong memories of listening to or watching reports as the missions unfolded. Sometimes we stopped class to listen as reports came in over the P.A. system. At other times, I  was at home in front of our TV and, on one horrible occasion, I was watching with my son’s class in school as the Challenger exploded. Sandler gave my brain a nudge regarding Apollo 8, bringing back memories of the mission and especially the iconic photograph, Earthrise, taken from the moon’s surface.

The story develops an immediacy and
tension that drives the narrative.

What Sandler does so well here is provide the background explaining what made this flight so important at the time, its relevance to the progression of the space program, and its important place in history. As he walks readers step by step through accounts of the flight as experienced by its crew and the viewers at home, the story develops an immediacy and tension that drives the narrative. I really respect Sandler’s ability to provide the complicated cultural context that made the mission so special, as well as the scientific and engineering details that were so pivotal to the overall program. Wonderfully written and carefully documented, this is a fascinating account. Quotes from the astronauts, their wives, and the mission control crew provide an engaging behind-the-scenes feel. The book design and production is outstanding, too, and the wonderful historic photographs are perfectly presented.

As an adult reader, however, my most deeply felt response to the story is sadness. This historic understanding of the Earth as a fragile thing sailing alone in the vastness of space was a global realization and the impetus for struggling environmental efforts. There was a real sense of unity as citizens of the planet and “as riders on the Earth together.” In stark contrast to that understanding is today’s nationalism, our dismissal of a compassionate regard for others, and the brutal dismantling of the small gains that had been made in protecting the health and future of this world. I hope with all my heart that this book is read by young readers everywhere and that it helps to rekindle a new effort by a new generation whose lives and future reside on this beautiful but troubled world that soars through the night sky.

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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