From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

20 Books of Summer 2023: Book 3

Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon is the first book in a two-part series. It mocks American gun culture as it was in the late 1860s by depicting the “Gun Club” sitting around, bored, at the end of the Civil War. Most members are missing at least one limb, but they remain passionate about guns, cannons, and explosives. The club’s president, Impey Barbicane, comes up with an idea to shoot a projectile to the moon. Eventually, it’s determined that people will travel to the moon inside the projectile. Part 1 ends shortly after launch, and since I haven’t read part two, I have no idea how it turns out.

I’m going with “lightly mocking” to describe the tone because Verne’s criticism of guns in America is fairly toothless and it rides alongside a general tone of respect for America’s can-do attitude:

Nothing can astound an American. . . . In America, all is easy, all is simple; and as for mechanical difficulties, they are overcome before they arise. Between Barbicane’s proposition and its realization no true Yankee would have allowed even the semblance of a difficulty to be possible. A thing with them is no sooner said than done. (20)

(Or maybe this is mockery, too, but I’m too American to realize.)

I read an abridged version of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea when I was a kid and remember nothing other than a general vibe of discovery/adventure. I expected to find a similar vibe here but did not. Though this is a short book (my paperback is only 188 pages), much of the word count is spent weighing different scientific theories and options. Given the age of the book, I didn’t want to invest much into the technical details, but from what I’ve read since, Verne wasn’t far off in some of his calculations. Still, I wanted more adventure, more character development, and more humor instead of all the scientific theory.

There is some levity and character development when Captain Nicholl emerges to challenge Barbicane; as a designer of plate armor, Nicholl questions the strength of Barbicane’s projectile. The manufacture of the cannon brings out another character too: Michel Ardan, who wants to ride inside the projectile. Once these characters came together, my interest in the book picked up a bit, but at that point it was nearly over. I’m not sure whether I’d like to read book two…

Around the Moon begins where From the Earth to the Moon leaves off. I’m tempted to read it because the projectile and launch system have already been built. I imagine (hope?) the sequel has less lecturing. To be clear, I really appreciate and admire how much Verne is willing to wrestle with the small details of the launch. If I read this book at a different time, its textbook qualities would be less grating. In addition to all the reading I do for my day job, I also have textbooks to read for class because I’m a student again. Therefore, the books I read for fun need to have more fun. My dislike of this book is mostly attributable to the timing. I’m reading some heavier books this summer, and this was meant to be a “break,” if you will. Maybe it should go back on the shelf to try again later.

Overall: 3.2 (out of 5.0) A perfectly passable book, but dryer than I expected. By the time the “adventure” aspects of the book picked up, it was over.

Previously on

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  2. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Read, review coming soon

  1. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  2. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  3. The Wager by David Grann

Currently reading

  1. At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie
  2. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  3. Paradise by Toni Morrison
  4. Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  5. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Unread, review coming later

  1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  2. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  3. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  4. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
  7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  8. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

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