Saturday, September 1, 2018

Earthrise by James Gladstone, Christy Lundy

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Although I disagree with the author's thesis that the Apollo 8 photo of the Earth rising above the Moon taken on Christmas Eve of 1968 was "the photo that changed the world," I do consider this young children's book a worthy read. 1968 had not been a good year for the USA. It was the year that North Vietnam, breaking a truce for the end-of-January Tet holiday, showed the USA what they were truly capable of and what they were willing to sacrifice to unite their country. 1968 was a leap year, but the US took far too long to make that leap. It was also the year of the Prague Spring and Earthquakes in Sicily and the Philippines.

It was the year of the Olympics, and the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both shot and killed. It was the unfortunate year that that idiot Pope Paul tried to tell women that he, and not they, owned their bodies. It was the year that France detonated its first hydrogen bomb. It was the year that 150 members of New York Radical Women protested about the 'bombshells' being exploited in the Miss America 'Pageant', which no matter how they try to tart it up by labeling it a pageant and not a beauty contest, is still about shallow skin-depth looks.

It was the year the Boeing 747 jumbo jet was unveiled, a plane that allowed terrorists to kill more people at one time in an air crash than ever before. It was the year the Beatles released the White album and United Artists banned the 'Censored Eleven' - eleven cartoons deemed to be racist. And it was capped when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders looped in a figure of eight around the Moon becoming the first humans to see the far side of it as well as traveling further away from Earth than any humans ever had before. The photos they took showed how tiny and undivided Earth is in terms of political boundaries: it's a planet we all have to share because there is nowhere else to go.

That's what this book is about, and it is well illustrated by Christy Lundy (and I have to add, commendably showcasing human diversity), and bright and colorful. I must say that the pages were sometimes awfully slow to load on my iPad. At first I thought this was because it was relatively old, but my wife's new iPad also took the same time to load, give or take, so it's the book's pages or it's the app (Bluefire Reader), not the iPad.

Anyway, the book tells the astronaut's story from liftoff on the venerable Saturn 5 rocket through their trip to the Moon (where we apparently leave them stranded because there's no return to Earth or splashdown!). Mostly it's about this one photograph that Bill Anders took, first of a black and white Earth on the way there, and then in color, of Earthrise, with the Earth half-illuminated by sunlight, the other half in darkness, creeping up above the bleak, gray, inhospitable Moon.

This wasn't actually the first Earthrise photograph taken! The first was taken by a robot in 1966 and showed much the same image, but the color image taken by humans is the one remembered. It was photographer Galen Rowell who made those hyperbolic claims for it being such a crucial image, but when you look at the actual Earth and how it progressed into 1969 and beyond, it's quite clear that this photograph ultimately influenced nothing.

There was no sea-change, only more of the same, so like I said, I do disagree with the author's assessment, but it does no harm to expose children to stirring imagery like this, and hopefully, in the long term, their astonishment and love of such imagery really will lead to an improvement among humanity in time! We can hope! I therefore commend this book as a worthy read.