Book Review: ‘Our Moon’ by Rebecca Boyle

“The moon is more sibling than subordinate,” Boyle writes, explaining that it formed out of the same cosmic cloud of debris that made Earth. Its gravity not only stabilizes our climate — making the moon “captain of our seasons” — but also enabled life. As ruler of the tides, the moon pulled primitive organisms into early Earth’s nutrient-rich seas, then pushed them back onto shore where “the fish, out of water, walked.”

But Boyle, whose graceful writing is as lulling as a bedtime story, paints the moon as more than just a driver of physical phenomena. Humans have always looked to our closest celestial neighbor, she says, to understand our place beneath it. “Just as the moon reflects Earth’s light,” she writes, “its primary role in modern science is to tell our story back to us.”

Ancient humans used the moon to harness time, which paved the way for organized systems like agriculture and religion (many forms of which worshiped the moon as a deity). By the time Galileo stood trial for claiming that Earth was not the center of our solar system — which he discovered, in part, by tracking lunar motion — the moon had already been divorced from the divine. People began to ponder what the moon was actually for, and our own place in the universe — ideas that, “Our Moon” posits, were the seeds of philosophical thought and early scientific observation.

At times, the narrative meanders far enough away from the topic at hand that I wondered: What does this have to do with the moon? But, just as that planet always reappears in our skies, so too does Boyle return to her subject. There is always some connection to be made, whether physical, spiritual, intellectual or mythic.

She leads us past the age of exploration, when going to the moon became an allegory for colonizing new lands, to the Apollo era, when the moon was a marker of political superiority. Boyle finds the moon in places I would never think to look. And she has convinced me that though our connection to it is ever-changing, the moon perseveres as a source of knowledge, wonder and influence — and is anything but dull.

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