What are five spaceflight history books you should read?

There is no shortage of books covering the history of spaceflight. You can be forgiven for not knowing which ones are worth reading. To identify five good books on the subject, we spoke with Dr. Michael Neufeld, who is a space history author and who also works as a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Dr. Neufeld’s recent books include Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War and Spaceflight: A Concise History. He kindly reviewed five of his favorite space history books for us.

Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age – by Jared S. Buss (2017)

Willy Ley was one of the most important spaceflight popularizers in interwar Germany and in the United States during World War II and after. Buss’s biography does justice to this important early figure.

Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age – by David A. Clary (2003)

In 1926, Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-propellant rocket and was one of the pioneers of spaceflight theory. Clary’s short, readable biography gives a good overview of Goddard’s life and complex legacy. 

Aiming for the Stars: The Dreamers and Doers of the Space Age – by Tom D. Crouch (1999)

Crouch, a well-known biographer of the Wright Brothers, provides one of the best and most enjoyable overviews of the pioneers of rocketry and spaceflight in United States, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain. 

Space and the American Imagination – by Howard E. McCurdy (1997)

McCurdy argues that before U.S. policymakers could spend money on spaceflight, advocates had to convince them, and the public, that it was even imaginable. Particularly noteworthy is his first chapter on the selling of spaceflight by Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, and others in the 1950s through magazine articles and Disney television specials.

The Red Rocket’s Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination 1857-1957 – by Asif A. Siddiqi (2010)

Russian and Soviet spaceflight advocates, notably Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Sergei Korolev, played a central role in creating early spaceflight theory and paving the way for the Soviet space program. Siddiqi’s groundbreaking research tells that story in fascinating and readable detail.