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Coffee-table books
“Space Atlas,” “Space Stations,” “All Over the Map” and “The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos” are among newly released coffee-table books with cosmic themes. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

If you’re going to give somebody a book for the holidays, why not go big?

In this age of ebooks, smartphones and tiny houses, there’s less need (and less room) for shelves of inch-thick volumes lining the walls. But it’s still nice to have a colorful, glossy-paged book to peruse during the commercials while you’re watching the latest episode of “Mars.” And if it’s a big book about a big subject, that’s even better.

Here are five big-format books on out-of-this-world subjects to put on your gift list, or to consider giving to folks who are crazy about the cosmos:

Space Stations: The Art, Science and Reality of Working in Space: There are lots of reasons to keep this wide-ranging, picture-packed survey of factual and fictional space stations — written by Gary Kitmacher, Ron Miller and Robert Pearlman — handy over the coming year. We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station’s start, and the expected debut of commercial space taxis will focus fresh attention on the ISS. There’s also a lot of talk about the Gateway that NASA and its partners are talking about building in lunar orbit. And if you want to feast your eyes on Space Wheels, O’Neill habitats and other classic sci-fi visions of the future, “Space Stations” has you covered.

Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond: This second edition of what’s now become a classic off-Earth atlas runs the gamut from constellation star guides to annotated planetary maps based on the latest wave of space missions (including Messenger’s voyage to Mercury and New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto). Because it’s a National Geographic production, there are lots of magazine-quality photos and sumptuous graphics. Written by James Trefil with a foreword by Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin (with an explanation of his cycler concept for trips to Mars).

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos: Astronomy writer David Dickinson and Universe Today publisher Fraser Cain team up on a book you won’t just want to keep on your coffee table. This guide has something for anyone with even the slightest interest in the skies above: easy-to-follow advice for finding the good stuff in the night sky, fun activities to deepen your appreciation of cosmic wonders, full rundowns on eclipses and other key events to watch for when the skies are clear, and lots of tales and trivia to muse over when they’re not.

All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey: Mapping the cosmos is just one of the topics addressed in this entertaining, colorful look at historical maps and the stories behind them. Space fans will revel in the tale surrounding a century’s worth of road atlases for Mars’ (non-existent) canals, There are also entries for the history of moon maps, the solar system maps that NASA’s Pioneer and Voyager missions provided for the aliens, and the fictional Death Star diagrams. But wait … there’s much, much more. Co-authors Betsy Mason and Greg Miller provide a cornucopia of cartography that spans subjects ranging from a street map for ancient Rome and a 15th-century guide to the parallels between medieval maps of Britain and contemporary charts of the Seven Kingdoms in “Game of Thrones.”

“Apollo: VII-XVII” takes a mission-by-mission look at Apollo’s space expeditions. (NASA / teNeues Publishing)

Apollo: VII – XVII: This holiday season kicks off prime time for Apollo moonshot anniversaries, starting with Apollo 7’s first crewed test mission and Apollo 8’s audacious yuletide trip around the moon in 1968. Co-authors Floris Heyne, Joel Meter, Simon Phillipson and Delano Steenmeijer  presents carefully curated photos from each of the 11 missions in chronological order. It’s all about the pictures here: Background text is kept to a minimum, and the captions are grouped together at the end of each section. There’s also a “collector’s edition” in a larger format with thicker paper (and a fatter price tag). With a foreword by Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham.

More books for Apollo’s big year

Because the coming year will be a big year for moonshot memories, here are five more Apollo books to moon over:

Big topics with fewer pictures

If you’re looking for science books that aren’t so big in size but still handle big subjects, here are five suggestions:

  • Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire: Stories from Quanta magazine chart the frontiers of physics, including quantum mechanics and black holes.
  • Out There:’s Michael Wall addresses big cosmic questions — for example, are we alone? — in a Q&A format.
  • The Poison Squad: Deborah Blum follows up on “The Poisoner’s Handbook” with the origin story for the fight against unsafe food.
  • Red Moon: Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest hard-sci-fi novel is set just 30 years from now, when China has set up bases on the moon.
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: Carl Zimmer delves into the story of heredity and its impact on identity, which goes way beyond just genes.
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