15 of the best space and astronomy audiobooks
A guide to the best audiobooks that will unlock the wonders of the Universe.
These days there appears to be no end to the range of space and astronomy books or podcasts available on the subject of all things cosmic, enabling readers and listeners alike to discover more about the Universe and humanity's exploration of it.
Space and astronomy audiobooks provide a much longer listen than your average podcast and are a great way of learning more about practical stargazing, astrophysics, astronomy history or spaceflight.
What's more, you can listen while on the move, during your gym workouts or whenever you happen to be pottering about in the kitchen and garden.
Given that most works of fiction and non-fiction eventually find their way onto the audiobook format, there’s a huge range of wonderful audiobooks looking at the wider Universe and how you can explore it from your back garden.
Below is our pick of some of the best astronomy and space audiobooks available.
Space and astronomy audiobooks
Practical astronomy audiobooks
Secret World of Stargazing - Adrian West
Author: Adrian West
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
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Adrian West has produced a charming audiobook with a strong emphasis on wellbeing: how and why stargazing is good for us, physically and mentally. This is very much an audiobook for anyone who is just starting out and finding their stargazing feet for the very first time, or for anyone with a passing interest.
There is no jargon to confuse or put the novice off and West makes that very clear from the outset. Indeed, as so many guides these days affirm, with West being no exception, stargazing is for everyone.
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Prominent, seasonal constellations to observe in both hemispheres are explained, all the while entwined with stories from mythology.
The Secret World of Stargazing is personal, delicate and beautifully innocent. For those more experienced astronomers, it is a reminder of why so many of us immerse ourselves in the hobby, and for those just starting out, it is a useful leg-up onto the first rung of the stargazing ladder.
Author: Tom Kerss
Publisher: Royal Observatory Greenwich
A wonderfully comprehensive and well-written guide about all facets of Northern Lights-hunting. It sets expectations and arms the reader with exactly what they need to know to see the aurora.
The section on how to photograph the Northern Lights is very impressive, with lengthy advice on how to take images, but also how to post-process the results when you get home. There’s even tips on using the latest smartphone cameras.
There's also an entertaining overview of how our understanding of the aurora has changed over the centuries. Within these sections there are some surprising facts. For example, did you know the term aurora borealis was coined by Galileo in 1616? Or that Captain Cook witnessed the aurora over nine consecutive nights in 1770 while sailing south of the equator?
This is an excellent guide to a fabulous natural phenomenon.
Listen to our podcast interview with Tom Kerss.
History of the Universe in 100 Stars
Author: Florian Freistetter
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With 100 billion stars in the Milky Way (and over a billion trillion in the observable Universe), how do you choose just 100 to represent the entire astronomical bestiary? Well, that is just what the author of this delightful audiobook has done.
Florian Freistetter visits almost every conceivable type of celestial object known to modern science, from tiny underground sparks of neutrino energy to enigmatic dark energy blobs and hypothetical Planck stars. Along the way we encounter much of the necessary scientific background, all covered in an accessible and patient manner.
This Way to the Universe
Author: Michael Dine
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The two flagship theories of modern physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics, are staggeringly successful in their description of the Universe. But, frustratingly, science is still far from an all-encompassing ‘theory of everything’. This first foray into popularisation from physicist Michael Dine seeks to show how we have arrived at the current impasse, while extolling the many puzzles and triumphs along the way.
It is not an easy task to take the complexities of theoretical physics, which is deeply ingrained in advanced, sometimes even esoteric mathematics, and translate it into common prose. It is even more difficult to make it accessible to the lay enthusiast. The author has done an admirable job and hasn’t shirked away from many of the more difficult and arcane topics. As a comprehensive and uncompromising tour de force of literally all of fundamental physics, there can be few better alternatives.
The Invisible Universe
Author: Matthew Bothwell
Astronomy is often thought of as a very visual field, with lots of focus on what we can see. In The Invisible Universe, Matthew Bothwell explores those bits that we can’t see – although that’s a little bit of a disservice as those ‘bits’ amount to the vast majority of the cosmos.
Throughout the audiobook, concepts are well explained using metaphors and analogies to create an accessible listen. The author’s day job as an observational astronomer comes through, and there are nice anecdotes about trips to telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, and a few from his base at the University of Cambridge, an institution steeped in astronomical history.
An engaging listen overall, this audiobook will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about how we’ve learned what we know about the Universe.
How to Make an Apple Pie From Scratch
Author: Harry Cliff
Starting with an apple pie, Cliff works backwards, breaking down the ingredients to their elements, then atoms, and keeps on going to describe what we believe is happening on the smallest of scales. This audiobook is a wonderful exploration into the origins of matter – and how you got to be here reading these words.
You’ll hear about the giants of particle physics, but Cliff also introduces a new generation of scientists who are pushing the boundaries of our understanding. You’ll be connected to the experiments these ordinary scientists are working on, and share in their passion.
The storytelling is captivating and easy to follow. Cliff stares right in the face of some of the most bizarre physics concepts we have. Instead of brushing over quantum electrodynamics, for instance, you will instead come away with a good understanding of what it’s all about.
So, at the end of the audiobook you may be able to ‘invent the Universe’: take the ingredients, which include a smidge of spacetime, and follow the witty instructions that detail how to actually make an apple pie from scratch.
Listen to our podcast interview with Harry Cliff.
Author: Christopher Wanjek
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Half a century has passed since Apollo astronauts flew to the Moon. After that, it was ‘job done’ and there was no political appetite to return. Humans have since ventured no further than low-Earth orbit, on space stations such as the ISS.
Wanjek argues that it is the promise of economic rewards, from such activities as mining and tourism, that will drive a new space race to the Moon, asteroids and planets, just as it has driven Earth-bound expeditions throughout history.
Spacefarers sets out to describe the very real difficulties that must be confronted in order to make our home on new worlds within our Solar System and beyond. It's a fascinating listen for anyone interested in the practicalities of living away from Earth, and describes just how engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs are planning to expand humanity’s horizons.
How to Astronaut
Author: Terry Virts
Publisher: Workman Publishing
The most stressful thing that F-16 pilot, NASA astronaut and space walker Terry Virts has ever done in his life was cutting crewmate Samantha Cristoforetti’s hair, in weightlessness, onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
It’s one of many fun anecdotes in this very personal account of what it’s like to be an astronaut.
Virts has been in space twice, commanded Expedition 43, helped shoot the IMAX movie A Beautiful Planet, carried out three spacewalks, and happens to be a talented writer, too. In 51 brief chapters he takes his listeners from training programmes, launch activities – and nuisances – in orbit, and back to re-entry.
With space tourism around the corner, How to Astronaut may prepare future spacefarers for their first out-of-this-world experience, but homestayers will certainly love this audiobook, too.
Watch our interview with astronaut Terry Virts.
Handprints on Hubble
Author: Kathryn Sullivan
Publisher: The MIT Press
From America’s first female spacewalker, Handprints on Hubble tells the story of Kathy Sullivan, whose career took her from a pressurised space suit to the highest altitude ever reached by the Space Shuttle.
Sullivan’s determined inner strength arose from her mother’s battle with depression and alcoholism, although a childhood fondness for adventure, maps and languages drove her towards an oceanography career and later – at the urging of her brother – into NASA.
As a ringside spectator of Challenger, Sullivan’s memories are tinged by tragedy and she remained soberly aware that she might never return from a mission. But she shares moments of levity, including synchronising watches with astronaut Sally Ride, just to ‘look busy’ as they prepared to board the Shuttle.
And behind every scene Hubble itself looms large – “like a beautiful silver gift from Tiffany’s” – whose contribution to understanding our place in the cosmos needs no qualification
Author: David Whitehouse
Publisher: Icon Books
From the pen of former BBC science correspondent David Whitehouse, this audiobook affords us an intelligent portrait of where we may be in the next half-century: from an Antarctica-like set-up of international Moon bases to outposts on the Red Planet.
Whitehouse draws on his own childhood aspirations and it is not hard to discern simmering frustrations as he ponders our lack of progress since 1969. “Changes have been made faster in some areas,” he laments, “slower in many others.”
His outline of 2069 – centenary events from ‘First Footprint Sanctuary’ at Tranquility Base, and colonies on Mars whose residents have never walked the Earth – is resoundingly optimistic, but still tainted by a dark thread of gloom.
Whitehouse is too conscious of where the last 50 years have not taken us to be under any rose-tinted illusions. Exploring the outer planets, for example, is still beyond even the 2069 generation.
However, after listening to this audiobook you will be left with a glimpse of a future far from utopian, but which certainly offers a sense of realism for what the next 50 years might hold.
Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut
Author: Samantha Cristoforetti
Publisher: Allen Lane
Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut opens with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti hurtling back through Earth’s atmosphere in a Soyuz descent module, a dramatic account that wouldn’t go amiss in the opening scenes of a film.
We follow Cristoforetti through her application process, astronaut training and preparation for ISS Expedition 42/43, her ISS tenure and, finally, her return to Earth. A large part focuses on her training, and by the time launch day arrives it almost feels like you too have experienced the rigorous program alongside her as you share her excitement at boarding the Soyuz rocket.
Cristoforetti has a poetic and often philosophical narrative style that is woven through much of her diary, giving it a refreshingly distinctive quality, but it is the depth of detail that makes this audiobook unique.
There are some parts where the details are crammed to the brim but, as this is the closest most readers will come to experiencing astronaut training, many will eagerly indulge in every crumb.
Author: Stephen Walker
Publisher: William Collins
This is not a narrow biography of the straightforwardly heroic Yuri Gagarin, but tells the wider story behind his 106-minute flight, extending to his fellow cosmonauts as well as their American rivals.
On average cosmonauts were a good 10 years younger than their astronaut equivalents, with much less flight experience. The Soviet emphasis was on fitness, not flying ability; these first cosmonauts were more cargo than crew. The author joins the dots to the grim tally of test animals flown (and often sacrificed) on both sides of the Iron Curtain, preparing the way for human explorers.
A documentary-maker, Walker returned to primary sources and living witnesses wherever possible. The result is a gripping story, rich in novelistic detail. Highly recommended.
Purchase our online lecture with Stephen Walker on Yuri Gagarin's historic flight.
History of astronomy audiobooks
The Astronomy Book
Astronomy makes it easy to settle into conversations about superlatives: the most cratered planet or the most volcanic moon. As with so many other things, what we know isn’t just a group of isolated facts, but the result of work done by scientists over many years.
Instead of filling its pages with constellation diagrams and lists of the farthest stars, The Astronomy Book puts what we’ve learned into an easy- to-follow narrative in everyday language, light on maths with history as the guiding undercurrent.
The audiobook takes Vera Rubin’s work on dark matter, Sir Isaac Newton’s understanding of the nature of orbits, Michael Mayor’s hunt for exoplanets and other complicated topics in astronomy, and explains them in a way that’s simple enough to be understood by anyone new to studying the skies, while still remaining interesting to people who have been studying them for years.
It's so well thought-out that it makes me want to start over and learn it all from scratch again.
Beneath the Night
Author: Stuart Clark
Publisher: Guardian Faber
What is it about the sky at night that has captivated human beings for centuries? This is the central question driving Stuart Clark’s excellent audiobook.
The story starts with the most ancient, prehistoric civilisations and how they studied and worshipped the night sky. Using the latest archaeological evidence and theories, Clark shows how for those early civilisations, the stars were the home of the gods, beginning a long association between the night sky and religion.
As he proceeds through the centuries, he explores the connections made between the night sky and agriculture, human behaviour (in the form of astrology) and music (the music of the spheres).
This book makes you rethink the traditional story of the history of astronomy. It reminds you to look up, not to seek out a particular object but to simply bask in the vastness of our Universe.
Listen to our interview with Stuart Clark on the history of astronomy.
The Glass Universe
Author: Dava Sobel
Publisher: 4th Estate
This is an audiobook about women in astronomy with few comparisons. It tells the story not of a single pioneer, but of an observatory and the group of women who worked there. In doing so, it bypasses the need to identify heroic acts to justify their fame.
Instead, we see the day-to-day experiences of people that today we honour as pioneers – Annie Jump Cannon, Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin and Henrietta Swan Leavitt – as the observatory supported them in their careers.
The story begins in 1882, when rich heiress Anna Draper met with Harvard College Observatory director Edward Pickering. Draper’s husband had spent his life photographing the spectra of stars; she hoped that work could continue, and was prepared to pay for it.
Chapter by chapter we are then introduced to the women who helped fund, carry out and shape that project.
There are some wonderful observations in the book, as the women experience certain injustices. As Ms Payne put it, she had originally pictured herself “a rebel against the feminine role,” before recognising that her real rebellion “was against being thought, and treated, as inferior.”
Observatory directors Pickering and then Harlow Shapley tried not to treat women as inferiors, and in that environment the women thrived.