Top critical review
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Nice idea, but too half-hearted
on 29 August 2010
I am interested in the moon scientifically and in the folklore and mythology that it has generated, and so Rick Stroud's 'The Book of the Moon' seemed like a worthwhile purchase. I certainly wanted to like it. The aim of the book is clearly to convey the wide-eyed sense of awe and wonder felt by the author (and to which I can definitely relate), rather than to be a point of reference for lunar geomorphologists or social historians, and it succeeds in this to an extent, but to be honest, not particularly far. I do occasionally thumb through the book, but only because I am interested in the moon, not because the book is written in a way that captivates.
The main reason for this is that the text lacks any real authority. The scientific chapters fare better than the ones on folklore, mainly because most people reading the book will know a little about the Apollo missions etc already. There is no reason to doubt what the author says or to question his sources, and it is straightforward to do further reading on the subject, so the lack of referencing does not matter.
However, this is not the case for the chapters on the lesser known subject of the moon's influence on human culture (the author explores folklore, mythology and the moon's influence on gardening and medicine). For example, the author happily describes how to make a 'moon mirror' in which to seek prophetic visions, but does not provide the source of his information, which renders it very dull reading indeed. If, for instance, he had said that the process was described in a 16th century volume from Chester or Dundee or Plymouth, it may have been remotely interesting. The same can be said for all the bumf on werewolves, gardening and myths. Where is he getting it all from? The author has done himself a complete disservice, turning what could have been an interesting read into a very bland one.
After these chapters, the author includes the miscellany. I do not have a problem with this, as long as there is sufficient miscellany to be purposeful. However, it is very threadbare. The page on 'Food and Drink', in which the author lists food products with 'moon' in the name, has just four entries. Here is one of those four:
"Blue Moon: a bright blue ice cream popular in the mid-west US. It has been described by the Chicago Tribune as a 'Smurf-blue marshmallow sweet, and tasting remarkably like fruit loops'."
Now, I for one don't find that particularly thrilling. But maybe if the author had attempted an exhaustive list, expanding his four entries to say, two hundred, it might just have indicated the food marketers' preoccupation with the moon...or something. As it is, what is the point of listing just four products with the word 'moon' in the name?
But for all its shortcomings, I wouldn't say that the book is completely not worth having. If you have several books on the moon or space already, you can thumb through this one and accept it as a flawed attempt to convey that almost child-like sense of wonder in the moon that some of us have, rather than to educate or entertain (there aren't even many pictures). If however, you are interested in lunar exploration, there are better books out there. If you are interested in folklore, again there are better books out there. If you want an exhaustive list of miscellany, then you may still have to compile your own. It could have been a very good book, but sadly, it simply isn't.