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More book recommendations from 2020 onwards – Part 1

In 2019 I wrote about some of my favourite books I read that year and I never got round to doing a follow-up post with books from 2020, 2021 etc. Finally, in 2024 I’m actually going to write up some of these books.

I’ve read around 90 books since the start of 2020, and a lot of these were very good – so I’m going to do this post in a number of parts, so as not to overload you with too many great books at once.

So, part 1 is going to be the first chunk of non-fiction books that I want to recommend. I’ve tried to roughly categorise them, so, let’s get started with the first category:

Space books

How Apollo Flew To The Moon by W. David Woods

Amazon link

This is an utterly fascinating book. It’s long, and it’s detailed – but that just makes it better (in my opinion). It covers a lot of technical detail about exactly how the Apollo missions and spacecraft worked – to literally answer the question of how they flew to the moon. All phases of flight are covered, from launch to splashdown, with details about each stage of countdown, how details of engine burns were passed to the crew (with worked examples!), how on-orbit rendezvous worked and more. It is liberally sprinkled with images and diagrams, and includes lots of quotes from the Apollo astronauts (from during the missions themselves, as well as from debriefs and trainings). This book is first on the list because it was genuinely one of the best books I’ve read – it was so fascinating and so well-written that I kept smiling broadly while reading it!

Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir by Don Eyles

Amazon link

Another Apollo book now – but this time more concerned with the technicalities of the computing technology used during Apollo. The author was a computer programmer working on code for the lunar module computer, specifically the code used for the lunar landing itself. This book is definitely a memoir rather than pure non-fiction – it covers parts of the author’s life outside of Apollo – but that makes it less dry than some other books on Apollo computing (eg. Digital Apollo, which I never quite got into) but it still covers a lot of technical information. I never fail to be amazed by the complexity of the computing requirements for the Apollo missions, and how they managed to succeed with such limited hardware.

Into the Black by Rowland White

Amazon link

Now we turn our attention to the Space Shuttle. This book covers the first flight of the space shuttle and includes a massive amount of detail that I hadn’t known before. I won’t spoil too many of the surprises – but there was a lot more military involvement than I’d realised, and some significant concerns about the heat shield tiles (and this was decades before the Columbia accident). It’s very well written, with a lot of original research and quotes from the astronauts and original documents. Highly recommended.

To orbit and back again: how the Space Shuttle flew in space by Davide Sivolella

Amazon link

This is the space shuttle equivalent of How Apollo Flew to the Moon. It is also fascinating, but not quite as well written, and therefore a bit harder to read. I got a bit lost in some of it – particularly the rendezvous parts – but the details on the launch, the computer systems, the environmental systems and tiles were fascinating.

Law books

This might be an unexpected category to find here, but I really enjoy reading books about law – mostly ones designed for lay-people. I’ve read all the typical books by people like the Secret Barrister – these are a few more unusual books.

What about law by Barnard, O’Sullivan and Virgo

Amazon link

This book has the subtitle ‘Studying Law at University’, but you can completely ignore that bit – it is a great book for anyone. With that subtitle you might expect it to cover how to choose a law course or the career progression for a lawyer – but instead, it ‘just’ gives a great introduction to all the major areas of UK law. It is absolutely fascinating. Chapters introduce law in general and the approach lawyers and law students take to the law, and then there are chapters for each major branch of UK law (criminal, tort, public, human rights etc). Each chapter then discusses the various principles of that branch of law and usually goes into detail on a few example cases. I found these examples to be the best bit – thinking about exactly what the law says when compared to the facts of the case, and what bits of law had to be decided by the judge or jury. It gave me a real appreciation for how much the law has to be "made up" (probably a bad choice of words) by the people interpreting it, as an Act of Parliament can never cover everything in enough detail. Note: Try and get the latest edition (3rd Ed at the time of writing) as there are interesting new bits about Brexit, and they cover the Supreme Court rather than the Law Lords.

Court Number One: The Old Bailey Trials that Defined Modern Britain by Thomas Grant

Amazon Link

This book gives a fascinating overview of various key trials that were held in the UK’s most famous courtroom – Court Number One at the Old Bailey. As well as talking about the trials themselves, the author covers the details of the case, and a lot about what life in Britain was like at the time of the trials, to give good context. I was really quite disturbed by the number of fairly obvious miscarriages of justice that were described here – but it was fascinating to hear the details (I’d heard of some of the cases before, but some were completely new to me).

The Seven Ages of Death by Richard Shepherd

Amazon link

This is a fascinating book, but you should be warned that it is quite upsetting at times, particularly in the chapter dealing with the deaths of babies and young children. I actually preferred this to Richard’s previous book (though I enjoyed both) – in this book he talks less about his personal history. Instead, he splits the book up into sections relating to different ages of people at their death. He talks very interestingly about the causes of death he sees at various different ages, and the general changes in people’s bodies that you’ll see at various ages (eg. bones that haven’t yet fused in children, damage due to drinking or smoking in middle age, changes in the bodies of elderly people). As well as discussing the bodies in detail, he also covers details of some of the cases, some of which are quite shocking.

Right, I think that’ll do for Part 1. Next time we’ll look at transport and Cold War books.

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This post originally appeared on Robin's Blog.

Categorised as: Books, Reviews

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