It seems inevitable that the future of mankind will be tied in one way or another to Mars. It could be the place where the first colonies of humans settle outside Earth, the first planet we might try to terraform, and the first place where we find traces of life beyond our planet. It’s exciting to think of all the firsts that are getting closer and closer, and Mars seems like it will be right in the center of all this.
But for all the mysteries that still surround our red neighbor, there’s plenty we already know about it. There are dozens of excellent books about Mars written for every kind of reader. Whether you are looking for purely scientific theories about it, or you are hoping to dream and imagine with a good novel set in space, there’s something out there for you.
We have tried to compile the best reading list to scratch your itch to learn more about Mars. We have selected a few books in many categories, from children’s books to non-fiction, and everything in between.
Table of Contents
Best Mars Books For Beginners
In this section, we will take a look at the books that contain all the basics everyone needs to know. The books here are easy to understand and you will not need any prior knowledge in Mars, astronomy, space or anything else to get started with these.
The Big Book of Mars
Author: Marc Hartzman
What is it that makes Mars so fascinating?. That is the question Marc Hartzman tries to answer in this book where he explores the red planet, from a cultural standpoint and explains how it has affected and inspired us throughout history.
While the narration goes through this timeline of events, it sprinkles a lot of fun facts about Mars as people of that era discovered them and experienced them.
Marc Hartzman is not an astronomy author. His other books are about quirky and sometimes even random stuff. No seriously, the man has a book on the 100 weirdest things found on eBay. But that lack of credentials gives him an advantage here, as it allows him to explain concepts and scientific facts in a way everybody can understand them.
The art in the book is also incredible. Hartzman has compiled some of the most amazing posters, illustrations, and photos of Mars in the pop culture. It makes me wish a hardcover, oversized version of the book would exist.
The Big Book of Mars makes for an excellent coffee table type of book. It’s simple, well-written, and way more entertaining than I expected. A perfect entry-point to get you started learning about the planet.
Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet
Author: Leonard David
Mars: Our Future On The Red Planet was created by National Geographic as a companion to their tv series Mars that imagines the life of the first human colony on the red planet a few decades into the future. The series is a good watch and is mostly accurate when it comes to the science of space exploration, which made me curious to check out this book.
It turns the title Our Future On The Red Planet is a bit misleading, but that doesn’t make this a bad book, in fact, it’s all the opposite. While the series focuses on a near-future and talks about science and technology that we still haven’t reached, the book focuses on straight facts, known information, and lots of pretty photos. This makes it a bit weak as a companion to the series, but it actually turns it into one of the best introductions to Mars out there. That’s the reason we are including it in this beginner’s section.
The physical version of the book comes only as a beautiful hardcover printed in high-quality paper and that’s perfect because it contains lots of high-resolution photos of Mars taken by different telescopes, rovers, and probes. A paperback version wouldn’t make them justice.
If you take a look at the reviews, they are a bit mixed, but when you dig into them, it’s because it seems people expected the book to be more about the series. If you understand that what you are getting instead is a basic overview of the planet, it might be the perfect fit for you.
Best Science-Fiction Books About Mars
Since the times of Greek and Egyptian mythology, and maybe even before then, Mars has inspired countless tales. Writers of all kinds have imagined stories about life on Mars, both human and Martian, future (and ancient) Martian civilizations, and many other ideas.
In this section, we will list the best science fiction books about Mars. Some are very accurate with the science, some take many liberties to come up with crazy ideas. There’s something for everyone.
Author: Andy Weir
Written by a former computer programmer, this is the most scientifically accurate and thoroughly researched sci-fi book I have ever read.
The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut that is part of the first crew to go on a manned mission to Mars. As it is to be expected in the very rough environment that is space, everything goes wrong when a giant sandstorm covers the landing spot. Mark gets injured, lost, and the rest of the crew believes him to be dead as they are forced to abort the mission and evacuate the planet. This leaves our protagonist alone on an inhospitable planet with his intellect as his only weapon to try to survive.
Despite having a very scientific framework and detailing all the technology that would be behind a real trip to Mars, The Martian also manages to be one of the most beautifully human novels of the last few years. It is a tale of the human spirit overcoming challenges.
A movie version of The Martian, starring Mark Whalberg was made in 2015. It is also a great movie, but I’d recommend checking out the book first as it will allow you to better understand some scenes.
You can’t go wrong with this book. If you are interested in space, technology, or science (otherwise what are you even doing on this site?), it’s a must-read that should be on every space enthusiast’s bookshelf.
Red Mars (Mars Trilogy Book 1)
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
When Arthur C. Clarke says the following about a book, you know you have to at least give it a hot:
“A staggering book . . . the best novel on the colonization of Mars that has ever been written.”
To be fair, Red Mars predates The Martian, and Arthur C. Clarke said that before the latter was released, but still…
Red Mars is the first book, and in my opinion, the best, in a trilogy centered around the first group of 100 people sent to colonize and terraform the red planet.
Just as The Martian, the book is very accurate from a scientific and technological standpoint, so if you are looking for something that is more science and less fiction in your sci-fi, it’s an excellent choice.
Some of the ideas in the book are starting to feel a bit dated as it was written in the early 1990s, but in general, it mostly aged well and still holds up.
My only gripe with the book is it feels slow at times and forgets about the main plot at times, but it is worth powering through those pages.
You can read Red Mars as a standalone story, but if you end up enjoying it, there are two sequels that build up on it.
Best Mars Non-Fiction Books
The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must
Author: Robert Zubrin
In 1996, the astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin published a book called The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must that is based on a report he presented to NASA years prior. In this report, Zubrin urged them (and all of mankind) to start developing the necessary technology to achieve manned missions to Mars and make its colonization a priority to secure the future of humanity.
The report gained a lot of supporters, but things moved a bit slower than what we would all have liked so we had to settle with reading Zubrin’s ideas for a while.
As you might know, things are finally starting to move forward when it comes to Mars missions thanks to the private industry joining in the effort.
Zubrin has then decided to write an almost completely new version of the book updated for the current times. In this, not only does he talk about his original plan, but about how modern technologies will allow us to achieve the dream of visiting another planet. The foreword of this new version has been written by Elon Musk.
It’s a must-read if you are interested at all in space exploration.
Author: Giles Sparrow
If you can only get one book out of this list. This is the one we would recommend. It is currently the magnum opus when it comes to Mars books, both in terms of information and photography.
Simply named Mars, this book by Giles Sparrow uses more than 200 gorgeous, high-quality images of the red planet to tell you its history, composition, and nature. This thing is basically a photography love letter to Mars.
While the impact of the book comes from its photos, the writing is just as good, managing to compress a lot of information in small, concise paragraphs that both beginners and experts can take something from.
If you are looking for a coffee table type of book, or simply something you can look at every once in a while to see the pretty pictures and learn something new, this one is for you.
The Search for Life on Mars: The Greatest Scientific Detective Story of All Time
Authors: Elizabeth Howell and Nicholas Booth
Our search for life outside Earth has never been so close to yielding results. And this quest begins on Mars.
There are currently 3 missions sent by NASA, the European Space Agency, and China with the main objective of finally finding traces that tell us without a doubt Mars once hosted life, or maybe still does.
Journalists Elizabeth Howell and Nicholas Boot wrote this book to coincide with the launch of these missions to guide you through humanity’s quest to find life on Mars. They interviewed more than 100 experts in the field and make a great job at structuring the information and help us understand it.
This is the kind of book that makes me excited for the future of space exploration.
The Sirens of Mars
Author: Sarah Stewart Johnson
If you are looking for a more personal take on what Mars can mean to a person and to all of us as a species, this is the book.
One part educational, one part memoir, in Sirens of Mars, astronomer and planetary scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson relates her story from how she developed a love for science and space to how she ended up as part of the team that developed some of the Mars rovers and are trying to figure out new ways to look for life in other planets.
This is an inspiring book where you don’t even notice how much you are learning thanks to how well-told she tells her own story.
At the time of writing this, it’s only available as a hardcover which, while having a beautiful cover, is a bit expensive, so we’d recommend to go with the kindle version or even the audiobook.
Best Mars Books For Kids
Mars: Explore the mysteries of the Red Planet
Publisher: DK / Smithsonian
Published by the Smithsonian, and filled with illustrations and photos, this is an essential guide to everything a kid would need to know about Mars. From hard facts about the planet to the current efforts to explore it and the search for life.
It was just published in 2020, so all the information is up to date.
It’s an excellent introduction to not just the red planet, but to astronomy in general, and even adults might learn a thing or two when reading it.
It’s recommended for the reading level of 7 years old and older.
You Are the First Kid on Mars
Author: Patrick O’Brien
What would it be like to live on Mars? That’s the question Patrick O’Brien answers in this illustrated book where he explains to children the challenges, the science, and technology that would be involved in a trip to the red planet in a way they can understand.
We have already reviewed this book in out guide to the best astronomy books for kids and still hold a good opinion about it.
It is recommended for 3 years old kids and above.