February 26, 2024

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Book review: “Our Moon” by Rebecca Boyle

Book review: “Our Moon” by Rebecca Boyle

“The Moon is more sister than satellite,” Boyle writes, explaining that it formed from the same cosmic cloud of debris that formed the Earth. Its gravity not only stabilizes our climate – making the Moon the “leader of our seasons” – but it also enables life. As ruler of the tides, the Moon pulled primitive organisms into the nutrient-rich seas of early Earth, then brought them back to shore where “fishes walked out of water.”

But Boyle, whose brilliant writing is as serene as a bedtime story, paints the moon as more than just an engine of physical phenomena. Humans, she says, are always looking to our closest heavenly neighbors to understand our place beneath them. “Just as the Moon reflects Earth's light, its essential role in modern science is to tell our story,” she wrote.

Ancient humans used the moon to exploit time, paving the way for organized systems such as agriculture and religion (many forms of which worshiped the moon as a god). By the time Galileo was put on trial for claiming that the Earth was not the center of our solar system—which he discovered in part by tracking the Moon's movement—the Moon had already separated from the divine. People began to think about the true purpose of the Moon, and about our place in the universe—ideas that postulated “our moon” were the seeds of early philosophical thought and scientific observation.

Sometimes, the narrative strays so far from the topic at hand that I wondered: What does this have to do with the moon? But, just as the moon always appears in our skies, Boyle also returns to her subject. There is always some connection to be made, whether physical, spiritual, intellectual or mythological.

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It takes us beyond the Age of Exploration, when going to the Moon became a symbol of colonizing new lands, to the Age of Apollo, when the Moon was a sign of political superiority. Boyle finds the moon in places I never thought to look. She convinced me that although our relationship with it is ever-changing, the moon remains a source of knowledge, wonder, and influence—and it's never boring.