Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar 

The Moon

by Michael Carlowicz

Published by Harry N. Abrams

240 pages, 2007

Buy it online




Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

It’s moon boggling to consider how much time author Michael Carlowicz must have spent hunting up the 185 images that grace the pages of The Moon. It’s a chunky little volume, the perfect coffee table book for elves. From photos of the astronauts on the moon, to stunning lunar images like the cover shot -- a looming moon dwarfing the tiny shadow of a shuttle -- the pictures will enthrall you. An eerie red globe over Albany, Missouri, during a partial “penumbral” eclipse hangs on one page. A view of the Apollo 11 lunar module floats over the moon with half of the blue earth hovering over it on another.

One could go on for quite a while describing the images in The Moon; they are, after all, more than half of the contents of this book. Not all are photos. There are illustrations by the mystic poet/artist, William Blake, (The Wandr’ing Moon) a logo advertising "MoonPie, the original marshmallow sandwich,” and a frontspiece from a book published back in 1638, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, and reproductions of stamps issued when Neil Armstrong bounced unto the moon in 1969 and when the Russians photographed the far side of the moon in 1959. Altogether it’s a cornucopia for the eye.

The blend of styles and information are as eclectic as the visuals, with text beginning each of the seven chapters, each just three to four pages long. With whimsical headings like Fly Me to the Moon, Night Light, Queen of the Night and By the Light of the Silvery Moon, the titles don’t give much away about content but clearly signal the reader that it’s going to be a fun trip, ranging from philosophical to scientific, from reverential to  humorous.

Carlowicz is a writer who specializes in earth and space science. He is the co-author of The Sun and author of Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Earth Weather. He is also the editor for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His passion for this subject is obvious. He is also well aware that whatever he writes is going to take second place to the assorted eye candy he has meticulously and lovingly researched. So often in a coffee table book, the writer attempts to eclipse the camera instead of paying homage to it. Such an entertaining way to learn so much.

The moon is linked to muses, to monsters and to mythology. It shares an abiding connection with lovers, madness and spirituality. The Virgin Mary is often shown standing on a crescent moon to symbolize her status as queen of the universe. That most holy of holy days in the Muslim religion, Ramadan, begins with the first sighting of a crescent moon. The moon festival when mooncakes are eaten under the full moon, is one of the most important traditional celebrations in China. The Jewish calendar is built on lunar months, and Pagan celebrations frequently are structured around the moon’s cycles. It has obviously also been Carolowicz’s inspiration and guiding light.

The Moon is a hodgepodge of interesting tidbits, with the narrative reflecting the visuals in its variety and scope. Perhaps the only aspect of the moon that he hasn’t covered is that cheeky little human act of defiance and provocation.

An excellent little book but for one design issue.

I imagine there was great debate about where and how to put the descriptions of some of the larger visuals, but surely no one could have been happy with the final decision to put some of them sideways across the edges of the pages? I suspect other readers will not like it any more than I did, having to turn the book around in order to read the information. It’s awkward and unnecessary. Ultimately, many readers will do as I did, and begin skipping the accompanying descriptions.

But it’s not worth mooning over. | August 2007

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.