The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 24 April 1999

From the Earth to the Moon

by Jules Verne

This book is arguably the very first modern science-fiction classic. It has inspired movies, books, and the Apollo moon missions themselves. What is unexpected, though, is the spectacular satire that Verne interweaves with terrific scientific detail. The Baltimore Gun Club, at a loss for what to do with themselves at the end of the Civil War (the novel was published in 1865), devise a remarkable plan to fire a projectile at the moon with a gigantic cannon. It is a bold maneuver, conceivable only in America. Verne uses this naive bravery as the basis of his satirical look at Americans. He doesn't spare other nationalities, though, including his fellow French. The book is often funny, sometimes unbearably silly, but full of rich detail. Verne foresaw details that will be familiar to anyone familiar with NASA's mission to the moon. Along the way, he builds the first 200-inch telescope (i.e. Mount Palomar, which came eighty years later), and hints at the changes in the weather caused by a giant explosion (nuclear winter?). In such a brief book, success is assured, but there are surprising twists to the tale. Unlike Wells' First Men in the Moon 36 years later, Verne spends more time on the bold technical challenges than on the destination. A fun read.

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Also by Verne: [Paris in the Twentieth Century] [A Journey to the Center of the Earth]

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