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The Distance of the Moon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 05:00 PM

What if the moon were just a jump away? In this short, a beautiful answer to that question from Italo Calvino, read live by Liev Schreiber. 

According to one theory, the moon formed when a Mars-sized chunk of rock collided with Earth. After the moon coalesced out of the debris from that impact, it was much closer to Earth than it is today. This idea is taken to it's fanciful limit in Italo Calvino's story "The Distance of the Moon" (from his collection Cosmicomics, translated by William Weaver). The story, narrated by a character with the impossible-to-pronounce name Qfwfq, tells of a strange crew who jump between Earth and moon, and sometimes hover in the nether reaches of gravity between the two.

This reading was part of a live event hosted by Radiolab and Selected Shorts, and it originally aired on WNYC’s and PRI’s SELECTED SHORTS, paired with a Ray Bradbury classic, “All Summer in a Day,” read by musical theater star Michael Cerveris. Hosted by BD Wong, you can listen to the full show here.


Liev Schreiber


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Comments [58]

Dave from Wilmington, de

The moon story was nauseating. Barehandedly scooping fishy smelling curdled milk from beneath the naked fleshy skin folds of....I'm going to throw up

Nov. 01 2017 06:41 AM
Lawrence Calablaster from State College, PA, USA, North America, Earth, Sol, Orion Arm

This podcast was quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I had forgotten how near-timeless and poetic Calvino's imagery was; he's like a Borges but more sensual/individual/personal. I will remember this story, quite possibly, for the rest of my life. Thank you so much, Jad, Robert, Liev, and all of the people at Selected Shorts for making this happen. And thank you, Italo, for making us dream.

Mar. 29 2016 11:23 PM
Rebekah from Washington, DC

After listening to Liev Schrieber's rendition of Italo Calvino's story, I was inspired to put pen to paper and sketch out the world as I saw it in my head. If you're interested, here's the drawing:

Thank you for continuously creating great shows.


Sep. 05 2014 04:39 PM
Maria A

I loved this, it was narrarated well so it kept my interest, some of the narraration was comical which I enjoyed and the story itself was intriguing. All of the comments connecting this story with Disney is really making me curious, I might have to go and see the connection for myself.

Apr. 10 2014 09:39 PM
Jay K

I listening to this tonight, a rare clear night for Oregon, whilst lying supine on the ground starring upwards towards the moon's glow, and I suggest you do the same; perhaps in the arms of someone you care for. It brought a smile to an otherwise unmoveably stoic face. Thank you...

Mar. 12 2014 04:03 AM
Bill Murray from In my pants

Liev Schrieber is one hot piece of man-meat.

Mar. 06 2014 10:58 PM
Lindsay from Omaha NE

I really enjoyed this story. It was wonderfully read. I would have never been exposed to this on my own, thank you RadioLab

Feb. 04 2014 11:23 AM

This is a beautiful story. I listen to it when I want to relax or when I am going to bed. Thank you. Can we learn more about Italo Calvino or hear Liev read another one of his stories. I know it would make Robert happy:)

Jan. 07 2014 12:38 AM

thank for this. it was great this is my 2nd listen to this short.its great. Do u have any other shorts? thank you.

Jan. 06 2014 07:58 PM

I'm a huge RL fan. I've listened to every episode. I've shared the link a few times for interesting pieces after having a conversation with others. However, with this article, I realized this was the first time that I proactively shared a piece. It really stuck with me.

Oct. 11 2013 03:26 PM
The Lyzzard

˙ǝsɹǝʌıun ɹno ɟo ɥʇdǝp ǝɥʇ ǝɹoldxǝ oʇ ɹǝpɹo uı ǝʇǝldɯoɔ ǝɔuǝıɔs puǝdsns ʇsnɯ ǝʍ sǝɯıʇǝɯoS ˙ʇı punoɹɐ uoıssnɔsıp ǝɥʇ ʇnq 'ǝɔuǝıɔs ǝɥʇ ʇou sı ƃuıʇsǝɹǝʇuı qɐloıpɐɹ sǝʞɐɯ ʇɐɥʍ ʇnq 'ǝɔuǝıɔs ǝɥʇ ʎoɾuǝ I ˙sǝposıdǝ ǝʇıɹoʌɐɟ ʎɯ ɟo ǝuo puɐ ǝsıɹdɹns lnɟıʇnɐǝq ɐ sɐʍ sıɥ┴ ˙ɯsıɔıʇıɹɔ ɥɔnɯ os—ʍoʍ

Aug. 27 2013 11:49 AM

"Its" not "it's" above.
This is the New Yorker, right?

Jul. 22 2013 01:17 PM
Molly from Washington, D.C.

This was beautiful. I really enjoyed listening to it. I disagree with those complaining it's not "science-y" enough and appreciate the diversity of RL's programming.

Jul. 10 2013 09:47 AM
Henry Moon from Pasadena CA

I am a science nerd. I enjoyed this reading.

Jul. 07 2013 10:44 PM
az_RAW from Cape Town, South Africa

What an absolutely beautiful reading, even after multiple listenings. Here is a wonderfully illustrated animation of the same story:

Jul. 04 2013 08:37 AM

Some of the previous posts suggest dissatisfaction with the amount of analysis presented. I've found myself thinking quite a lot about the moon and our relationship to it because of this story. Actually, it has planted a stronger seed in my thoughts and imagination than most other RadioLab episodes (and I confess, I've listened to all of them). I do enjoy a good departure from reality now and then and I am of the opinion that this was a rather elegant one, but perhaps it was more the lack of pointed commentary that made this one so interesting to me.

I also don't think there exists any single format that categorizes the volume of previous shows and shorts, and if there was I like to believe Jad would insist on breaking it immediately just to see what happened.

Jun. 24 2013 12:30 AM

As a longtime listener to Radiolab I felt the need to comment on this story. It feels out of place in Radiolab, lacking in scientific substance. While nicely read and artistic, it is not what I listen to Radiolab for. A few minutes and then some analysis would be find but I had to turn it off.

Jun. 23 2013 12:41 PM

I was entranced by the piece. Liev Schreiber's voice was perfect at creating an actual, factual mood. This short story was lovely crossover between poetry and the poetry of science.The visual images were both beautiful and thought provoking. How about that sea of sky?!

Jun. 20 2013 01:44 AM
Runner Bean from Port Elizabeth S.Africa

This is the first time I have listened to one of your Podcasts and I have to say I found it whimsical, lyrical and beautifully read. I enjoy scientific information but since I wasn't sure what to expect I found it almost hypnotic which did not disappoint me. The imagery was wonderfully imaginative and almost visually believable. In some strange way it made me think of The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery and it made me laugh. I sympathise with those who wanted cold facts on the moon however I believe that people sometimes need to get away from that and explore their own inner world. Reality and fact can be real downers. Thank you.

Jun. 16 2013 04:17 PM

I LOVE RadioLab. While an interesting story, this belonged on Symphony Space. Would have been fine here if maybe they played an excerpt, and then followed it with some discussion about the actual theory. I was more interested to hear about that. The intro got my hopes up that the theory would be explained in more detail after the story.

I don't think anyone is being negative; this content was produced for a very specific show with a very specific format, and that's where we would expect to hear it.

Jun. 14 2013 08:13 AM
BB from British Columbia, Canada

Shame on all the Negative Nancy's in this comment group! Though not scientific by conformist definitions, this episode gives key cultural context to the science behind our society's fascination with luna. Italo Calvino offers words and Liev Schreiber gives voice- it is a poetic masterpiece! I think Radio Lab throws us episodes like this to remind us that the pursuit of knowledge is not always accompanied by dusty old men and microscopes.
...And whose to say the moon doesn't contain milk? Your science of numbers and atoms always begins with improbable dreams.

Jun. 11 2013 01:37 AM
Anand from Tiruppur

Hey nice blog about fashion Shorts,!! Keep Posting!!

Jun. 04 2013 08:33 AM

Never mind...

May. 25 2013 12:32 PM
Aimee from Seatttle, WA

I just watched the new Disney cartoon, Brave, and was wondering if anyone else thought the opening Pixar short seemed very much like Calvino's story "The Distance of the Moon"? Men with ladders on a boat sail to the middle of the ocean, hike up the the gap, float to the moon, and collect things. Seem mighty similar if you ask me.

May. 25 2013 12:31 PM
alias: from atlantis, stonehenge/CIRCLE

radio connects us

May. 22 2013 12:00 AM

I love Liev Schreiber, but he pronounced at least two words incorrectly -- one was "chitinous", and I can't recall the other one, since I listened to it at least a week ago. Granted, the words are rather science-specific, and Liev should not be expected to know them, but the editors/producers should have. Sorry, but I'm nit-picky about things like that... As to the content, it was interesting, but not what I expect/want from Radiolab.

May. 20 2013 04:33 PM
Benj from Bali, Indonesia

Wow. There are a lot of cranky people out there that don't like anything they aren't expecting. Life must be rather dull for them. I'd hate to be the barrista at whatever Starbucks they go to every morning (you KNOW they go to Starbucks...)

May. 18 2013 01:07 AM
Jo from Australia

Oh come on guys, seriously you can't see the relevance of one of the world's true literary geniuses? Calvino died too early and remains relatively unknown outside of Europe. His stories reverberate with ideas. They take nuggets, little scoops of images, just like Radiolab and turn them into something you think about for days, or in my case years.

What happens if someone 'takes to the trees' never touching land again? Is their world narrowed into nothingness or opened to the endless possibilities of imagination? (how is our world viewed from different perspectives? how do humans interact if they don't inhabit the same space or place?) If you found yourself suddenly divided in two, how would you spend your time - searching for your lost half or living two completely separate lives, and then how would you know? (what happens, if, as in Oliver Sacks case, you cannot recognise yourself? can plasticity overcome acquired brain injuries?) Is will power enough to sustain existence? What if others gradually realized that the suit of armour you had on, contained no you? (what makes people and communities resilient? why do placebos work?) These are questions of science as much as they are of philosophy. (All of these stories appear in "Our Ancestors").

Give Calvino another chance, but this time, listen to the ideas not the category. I would have thought that by the level of 'snottiness' of some the remarks, the more pompous of you would have loved to quote an obscure European writer, or perhaps that is the point after all ...

(And yes Bob from NH they are even better read out alone to someone you love)

May. 17 2013 09:20 AM
Matthew from Atlanta

Not sure why there's such a backlash in these comments. I just started listening to Radiolab on TAL's recommendation, and I absolutely LOVED this. Not only is Liev a great narrator, but the story was really enthralling.

I'm an artsy person, so perhaps I'm biased, but I feel like the other side of the coin (and comments) needs to be noted!

May. 16 2013 11:43 PM
secretplanet from Tasmania (Australia!)

oh dear..
i made a hot drink & settled in for some interesting facts & thought provoking ideas about our moon. I'm with Brian on this one. That story belongs on an arts podcast, not a science one! i hope there was a cool twist at the end for those patient enough to suffer the full 40 minutes!

May. 14 2013 07:57 PM
Bob from NH

I bought two Italo Calvino books after this, and can't wait for them to come in. My girlfriend and I read together out loud, and are looking forward to this (right after we finish a Jon Ronson book that is really great). I love short stories, and I'm glad I've found something new here.
Thanks, and what a great job by Liev! How did you figure out how to say those names?
I can see myself reading these stories to friends around a campfire some day. How wonderful :)

May. 10 2013 11:16 AM

Always listen to RadioLab, gotta say I was disappointed in this episode. I hope for the same awesomeness we typically listen to in the future! (on another note, my friend finally decided to tune in and now it's gonna be hard for me to get him to tune in again)

May. 08 2013 06:08 PM

I rarely feel the need to post comments or reviews online, but after listening to the most recent 23weeks Radiolab, and remembering this one, I feel obliged to do so.

I listen to many podcasts, and used to rank Radiolab at the top. I cannot emphasize enough how disappointing the recent change in the subject material has been. While this story should be on radio somewhere, Radiolab is not the place unless you are trying to appeal to larger market by diluting out the science and replacing it with smarmy sentimentality.

David - The fact that many including Brian and I detest the new direction of the show may be unpleasant to you, but it needs to be said.... Otherwise you end up with programming directed at the lowest common denominator. I'd prefer a niche product. You can cheer on until Radiolab is indistinguishable from Oprah, but many long-term listeners will be gone.

May. 06 2013 03:43 AM

I've listened to every RadioLab, and love it! This one, however, left me befuddled. I didn't catch the lesson, puzzle, or amazing concept that typically accompanies an episode. Great actor, weird story. Sorry.


Apr. 30 2013 10:12 PM
Nicole from Attleboro, MA

Jim from NJ - I thought the exact same thing about the Pixar short.

Guys, loved loved loved this story. I caught the beginning of it on Selected Short and was delighted to be able to hear the whole thing here. When it was finished, the only thing I could say was "Wow. Now *that* is a short story." Brilliant!

Apr. 27 2013 06:15 PM
Olubode from houston. tx

I am enjoying this...;love it

Apr. 27 2013 04:17 PM

Absolutely loved this story. Dripping with poetic imagery.

Apr. 25 2013 01:29 PM

I share Robert's crush on Liev Schreiber. That man's voice is as smooth as silk, and he's got quite a dapper look to boot.

I do normally enjoy more science-themed-stuffs from Radiolab, but I'd gladly listen to anything Liev Schreiber narrates.

Apr. 25 2013 09:50 AM

Entrancing story, beautiful performance. Thank you, Radiolab.

Apr. 24 2013 05:50 PM

While I love Radiolab, and feel that 98% of the content are home runs, this story was not. I was actually a rather boring story, and if I was reading it myself would have put it down after the third paragraph.

Apr. 24 2013 10:32 AM


You sound real dumb, bro. Brian is right, this is trash.

Apr. 24 2013 09:57 AM

this story = great
Thanks Radiolab for all ya'll do. I used to subscribe to Selected Shorts as well, and they fell off my radar. Thanks for reminding me about them.

Apr. 23 2013 02:46 PM
rationallady from Bellingham, WA

I love Radiolab and look forward to it. I have been a regular contributor for years. Sorry, I tried to enjoy this episode, but I just couldn't. No science content after the first few minutes.

Apr. 22 2013 11:38 PM

I read through the comments here. Interesting mix. Radiolab, in choosing to break from the traditional style of storytelling we (the fans) are accustomed to, this was an excellent choice. Loved the story, the telling of the story, the honest confession of bromance, and the humor. Thank you!

Apr. 22 2013 04:16 PM

Anyway, I'm finished with my rant. I am boggled at how short sighted Brian is, and am thankful that everyone is not as braindead as him, otherwise radiolab would not be around for us to listen to. Cheers to people who are the exact opposite of Brian!

Apr. 22 2013 06:03 AM

Brian -

If you weren't such a condescending jerk, we might take your comment seriously. You realize that the program is given to YOU - FREE OF COST - meaning that you obtain whatever (minor? major?) benefits without putting in any effort at all? Meaning, you sit behind your computer screen and throw stones at individuals who work their ass off to create the program for you to listen to (free of course) so that... you... can tell them why you will continue to listen to their free program, in which they need money to produce, but will not contribute because it doesn't live up to your high, live off the hard work of other individuals standards?

Your condescension reaches epic proportions.. you troll someone who gives you a free product merely to tell them why you won't help them pay for the free product that you enjoy on a weekly basis.

Literally bro - I read your comment and almost gagged. You are what is wrong with people (in general) and why NPR could potentially lose their ability to produce segments (unfortunately those of which that don't live up to your hoity toity standards).

Your self entitlement is mind boggling. Even when I made minimum wage in high school I found myself able to donate money.

I hope they study your brain and do an entire hour on it to find out what the hell is wrong with you. It certainly would entertain me.

Cheers dbag -


Apr. 22 2013 05:58 AM

I gave thought of contributing to Radiolab after they asked listeners to to keep up with bandwidth costs.

And then they few recent ones have been so, so boring and bland and head-scratching I can't justify it. If you want my money, come up with original programing more than once a month. Man this episode was so disappointing. How is this on Radiolab? How?

As others have said, if I wanted to listen to Selected Shorts, I would have. You know what would have been interesting? An actual discussion of time or space between the Earth and Moon. Instead we got this story. Which, in its own context, could be entertaining. But for Radiolab? Ugh. Talk about a bummer. Snore.

Sorry Jad, Robert...if you want money, try harder. A lot harder.

Apr. 20 2013 11:56 PM
Kylie from Western Australia

That was beautiful. I've listened to this 3 times so far... so beautifully read.
Thank you RadioLab!

Apr. 20 2013 09:54 AM
Nikolina from Croatia

here's a wonderful animation of the story

Apr. 19 2013 03:09 PM
Darren from Nashville

Love Radiolab, like the story but if I wanted to listen to Selected Shorts I'd listen to Selected Shorts. What gives???

Apr. 19 2013 06:06 AM
iMan from Earth

That was too long!!! Was it really all about this so-called moon!

Apr. 18 2013 11:53 PM

1nm/s = ~3cm/year. To put this into human terms if you are a 5'3" woman (which the average American woman is) the Moon will have drifted away from the Earth the distance of your body height around your 45th birthday. If you are a 6' tall man (slightly taller than the average American man, but lets just say) the Moon will have drifted away from the Earth the distance of your body height by around your 60th birthday. Food for thought.

Apr. 18 2013 11:22 PM
Jim in NJ

Pixar produced a short called, "La Luna" about two years ago.

If they weren't influenced by this story, I'd be shocked. The story is different, but the theme is almost identical.

You can see it on youtube at:

Apr. 18 2013 07:31 PM

I enjoyed this reading very much. I was so excited to hear this because I fell in love with "The Distance of the Moon" when I first read it two years ago. I did a series of paintings based on it. Thank you Radio Lab.

Apr. 18 2013 01:02 PM
Matt Ranlett from Atlanta

Fantastic story and a really compelling reading. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!

Apr. 18 2013 12:13 PM
Rick Umali from Arlington, MA, USA

Very mesmerizing! I was definitely enraptured by the story and its images.

Apr. 18 2013 10:11 AM
Erica Johnson from Mankato, MN

Ah Liev...sharing that crush with you Robert :)

Apr. 18 2013 09:31 AM

Unfortunately this only reminds me why I don't listen to Selected Shorts. Mildly entertaining story, but not up to RadioLab's snuff. Sorry.

Apr. 17 2013 05:08 PM

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