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The Book of the Moon Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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About the Author
Rick Stroud is an acclaimed television director. An associate producer of Brideshead Revisited early in his career, he has since been nominated for an Emmy, and his work has been extensively shown on American television, including the miniseries Nancy Astor and the TV film The Last Day. He lives in London.
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I liked the first chapter on facts and figures, but I felt the text started to deteriorate soon thereafter. Some sections feel padded with extra facts, while others seem incomplete, especially some of the lists and timelines. For example, read this description of Johannes Kepler from page 78:
"Kepler was an astrologer, astronomer and mathematician. He worked for a time in Tycho Brahe's observatory. Kepler's most important work was his Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, in which he described his three laws of planetary motion. In 1615 his mother was tried and imprisoned for witchcraft. She was released after fifteen months."
What do the last two sentences have to do with astronomy and the Moon? Nothing! Why should we even care about Kepler's mother? Why not use some of that space to explain something about Kepler's laws or what made them so important? If you only have a few sentences to describe a person or topic, make them count. Also, the portrait of Kepler following the description takes up over half the page, appearing much larger than the portraits of Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei found earlier in the section. So with Kepler, we get more illustration than information.
The occasional pull-quotes in the text serve only to pad it; the text does not have the density or complexity to warrant using them. The pull-quotes appear too close to the original text, making them feel repetitive. The pages have wide outside margins, resulting in less actual information/text per page.
I finally gave up after reading the Chapter 3: Gods and Myths. The author glosses over some deities and offers misleading or erroneous information about others. Take this poorly written description of Thoth from page 126:
"Thoth is the god of the moon and wisdom. His images are to be found in sculpture, stone reliefs and wall paintings from 3000 BC to the end of Egyptian history in AD 400. Writing about him can be found in pyramid texts and coffin texts. He was born from the head of the god Seth. He is depicted variously as part human, part ibis; all ibis; or as a seated baboon. He wears a crown of a crescent moon surmounted by a moon disc. Generally benign, as the scribe of the gods he is responsible for entering the record of the souls who pass into the afterlife. He is the inventor of arts and science and the master of magic. If angered, he will decapitate the adversaries of truth and tear out their hearts."
Where to start? The author takes the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts out of context, ignoring the chronological import of these texts. The Egyptians generally considered Thoth as self-created and taking part in the formation of the universe, certainly not originating from Set. However, the last sentence surprised me the most, as none of the material I've read about Thoth mentions an angry, violent side of the god. While I do not doubt that a mythological basis for this manifestation could exist, the idea does not appear in any common mythological or archeological accounts of Thoth that I have encountered.
On the next page, another zinger concerning Hecate:
"She has been adopted by neo-pagans as the patron of witchcraft and evil, and her plants included hazel, black poplar and willow."
None of the neo-pagans I know have adopted Hecate as the `patron of witchcraft and evil'. The author's statement seems tainted with Judeo-Christian superstition that confuses darkness (an important aspect of Hecate) with evil.
I skimmed through the next chapter, Gardening and the Weather. The gardening section mostly describes Rudolf Steiner's Biodynamics. The weather section gives a brief history of theories on if/how the moon affects our climate that ends around 1850 and then simply glosses over all modern attempts to answer the question as inconclusive. Surely meteorology and climatology have advanced sufficiently in the last 150 years to offer more evidence to consider! And here, I deemed the book not worth more investment of my time and attention and put it down. The rest of the book looks interesting, but not enough to endure issues with accuracy and layout. Very disappointing and not recommended.
Stroud is an acclaimed film producer who produced the often remembered British TV show, Brideshead Revisited and Coronation Street. With this background, it is interesting as to why a TV producer would write a book on the Moon. Stroud states that his interest in the Moon started as a 9 year old child and when he had the opportunity to make a movie for NASA, his interest was reignited. This book is the product of that movie.
This book will be of interest to sceptics for a number of reasons. Firstly it looks at the science of the Moon and the Astronomers that peered and gazed at it from ancient times to today. One particular chapter discusses every manned probe, both manned and unmanned that went to the Moon with all the stats and facts, together with images of the men that walked on the Moon.
But what makes this book complete and of interest to the readers of this Journal is the subsequent chapters after the discussion of astrophysics and astronomers. Chapter 3 looks at all the Gods and Myths relating to the Moon in a concise summary that would make any book of astronomy turn in shame.
Stroud also discusses the effects of the Moon on gardening with the new-age theory of Biodynamics. Stroud does not support the theories of biodynamics, but discusses the reach that influential people had in using the Moon for their irrational theories from growing food to breeding animals.
Two additional chapters look at how the Moon influences the use of magic and also the essay on werewolves, madness and science as a whole. The chapter on magic addresses the Moon in the doctrine of occult, astrology alchemy but also the telling of fortunes. A very interesting chapter on how our Moon influences irrationality.
A final chapter on how the Moon has influenced culture from food to movies also makes a capstone to the book. The straightforward presentation of this book is an example of how Stroud has taken the subject of the Moon and out it all into one volume.
If I can make a number of criticisms in regards to the book. More images of the actual Moon itself. The book has a excellent discussion on the naming of all features of the Moon and the fight between naming various features by the USSR and the International Astronomy Union. An atlas of the Moon highlighting the naming conventions and the names that were eventually settled upon in the 1960's would have helped. Additionally, the landing and crash sites of all the USA and USSR probes would have assisted the reader in the history of the Space Race. Stroud went to great pains to ensure that he had all the images of the astronauts, probes and other myth related subjects, but the lack of an atlas was evident after a few chapters. I needed to refer to another book, with an atlas of the Moon, to get the full impact of what Stroud was describing.
This book has a place in the overall sceptic's library. It fulfils the interest that we have in science in general, especially astronomy and spaceflight, but also weather, geology and history. The summary of information of facts, stories and interesting trivia would be of interest to all those that have looked at the Moon. But it also fulfils our desire to learn about irrationality. The section on Biodynamics is informative and complete in demonstrating the how Rudolph Steiner influenced a complete generation of farmers in growing food, which for all intensive purposes, had no basis in spirituality, but how people have been growing their food for thousands of years. The additional sections on the myths of the moon also provide support for other interest that sceptics have in their quest for seeking the truth.
Would I recommend this book for the sceptic library, most certainly, as it is a one-stop shop for all the information that you will ever need in relation to our Moon. But an additional book containing images of the features will no doubt be needed for complete enjoyment.