‘Space on my bookshelves’. Geddit?
As an avid book-buyer, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite books. Most of them I’ve dipped into a lot or read particular chapters, rather than read the whole thing cover-to-cover. Many were bought second-hand for a couple of quid. If you have any questions about any of them, please just ask! The list is in no particular order…
The Story of Astronomy – Heather Couper & Nigel Henbest Does what it says on the tin
Measuring the Universe: The historical quest to quantify space – Kitty Ferguson A very readable book about a very specialist topic: Helped me understand about Cepheid variables. Just a shame Cepheid variables weren’t in my GCSE Astronomy exam.
Chasing the Sun – Richard Cohen From the ancient Egyptians to Copernicus to sun dials and the atomic bomb. Covering science and culture, a terrific achievement, 8 years in the making, by a total non-specialist
Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and misuses revealed from astrology to the moon landing ‘hoax’ – Phil Plait Great name. He should be a restaurant critic. Forensic dismemberment of the ‘hoax’ arguments, and some interesting thoughts about why the moon looks larger when sitting on the horizon than when high in the sky
Universe: 50 ideas you really need to know – Joanne Baker Surprisingly good for a ‘list’ book. Got me through the galaxies and cosmology part of my GCSE
Astronomy: A self-teaching guide – Dinah L Moché American, aimed at GCSE/A level students (or US equivalent). Very helpful and laden with self-test questions. Not a stargazer’s guide, but rather about the science of astronomy
Philip’s Practical Astronomy – Storm Dunlop – I’ve been to enough Blackheath events to know that plenty of you don’t need this – but anyone who hasn’t got as far as actually buying a telescope yet would get a lot out of this book
Cosmos: The story of Cosmic evolution, science and civilisation – Carl Sagan. The ‘no pictures’ paperback is, of course, excellent. 35 years old, but as far as I can recall, less ‘over the top’ and more informative than the original series
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking Must read this book some day. I must.
Patrick Moore’s New Guide to the Planets (1993) – Highly readable. Of course. It’s by Patrick Moore.
The Sky at Night: Answers to questions from across the universe – Patrick Moore & Chris North Great fun, very dip-in-able, sometimes quite barmy.
The Large Hadron Collider: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe – Martin Beech I bought this at CERN and it’s excellent. I reviewed it on another page.
Nice selection there Andy.
Here’s a few of mine. They reflect my dual passions for practical astronomy and the history of astronomy.
Astronomy without a Telescope – E.W. Maunder 1902. You can actually get this for free nowadays, on one of the online archives, but I love old books, and have my own copy. Maunder is one of my heroes, having worked at the Royal Observatory from 1873 until 1913, and is probably best known for his work on sunspots (the “Maunder Minimum” is named after him). However, the British Astronomical Association owes its existence to Maunder, as he helped found the association in 1890. He was a great populariser of astronomy and wrote several books (including a fantastic history of the Royal Observatory, which I also have). This book, however, is a great introduction to astronomy and I still use it today to find “simple” language to explain various topics in astronomy.
The Immortal Fire Within – The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard – William Sheehan 1995. Another astronomical hero of mine… this is the first (only?) biography of E.E.Barnard, one of the greatest observational astronomers who ever lived and a pioneer of astrophotography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is a brilliant and inspiring biography and I’d highly recommend it.
Star Tales – Ian Ridpath 1988. For anyone who is interested in the myths behind each of the constellations in the night sky. A brilliantly written book… and I’m really looking forward to seeing Ian at the Flamsteed in October this year!
The Sun Kings – Stuart Clark 2007. The story of Richard Carrington and the solar storm of 1859, The “Carrington Event” (which, if repeated again today, would bring the World’s economy to its knees). A great story, superbly written by Stuart.
Observers Handbook 2014 – Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. I get this every year. Yes, it’s Canadian. Yes, I should probably use the BAA handbook. But, nothing compares to this reference book. 350 pages of facts about astronomy for the coming year. This really is my observational bible.
Astronomy Hacks – Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson 2005. I love this book. For a practical observer, it’s full of great tips and tricks. I’ve learnt loads of stuff from this book… in fact, I’m slightly worried about recommending it, ’cause people will now know where I get a lot of my advice from!!
Anyway, I could go on and on and on. My bookshelves are heaving with astronomy related books. We really should have a book swap day in the society one day!
A very inspiring list, there, Mike!
I make regular trips to Galloway where (a) it’s dark (but not in midsummer) and (b) the town of Wigtown has several second-hand bookshops (it’s an official ‘book town’ – like Hay on Wye but without the great weather). I will print off your list and take it with me when I head up there again. Failing that, Abe Books, here I come!!!
I stumbled across a book this morning called Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe. American-tilted, I’d say, but you can get pages and pages – a lot more than normal, I think – on the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ button.
a couple of pragmatic books for me:
– Collins Stars and Planets – detailed star charts with write-ups of all the interesting bits for each constellation, detailed moon maps and the info chapters have got lots of interesting stuff in them. My copy is nearly falling apart now, and the cover’s all worn off. I remember one session when I had the telescope set up on the moon at high power with a webcam, and using the maps in the book as a road atlas to skip from crater to crater, great.
– Turn Left at Orion, of course, great with a pair of binoculars and a glass of wine
– and for me, The 100 Best Astrophotography Targets by Ruben Kier, to simultaneously give me ideas for my next target, and demonstrate how hopelessly inadequate my efforts are so far !
Turn Left at Orion, of course, great with a pair of binoculars and a glass of wine
Sounds like my kind of book!
First of all, thank you all for those book recommendations. The one I will immediately purchase is Turn Left at Orion. That seems like an essential for navigating around the stars without relying on the unstable Iphone Sky Safari and Andorid’s Google Sky apps. I really need to learn and feel the skies without depending on tech.
I am afraid I never had the patience to read a text heavy “novel” size factual book. As a daydreamer, its only world of fiction for me at those lengths…most of which are naturally Sci fi 🙂 Reference books, yes of course I read pages of those at random as we all do! But most of my knowledge of space comes from magazine articles, TV documentaries and more recently, the excellent Flamstead/Astrofest lectures and plethora of online youtube videos!
Book-wise, call me shallow but I absolutely love a glossy presentation non factual book on space. So I shall offer a recommendation on the “Coffee Table” genre. I have many coffee table books mostly of Art, Movies and Scifi but out of all those Hollywood gloss on my now collapsed coffee table, my new found favourite is:
“The Cosmic Tourist” by Patrick Moore, Chris Lintott and Brian May which I purchased at previous year’s Astrofest.
I am person that DO judge a book by its cover or a compelling synopsis no matter how good the content, you have to attract your audience in the first place (unless there is good word of mouth). So as I strolled the booths of Astrofest, of all the funky telescopes and toys on display, this item cover caught my wide eyed inner child in me.
Moore, May, and Lintott in a Jules Verne style rocket launching into the Cosmos, with “The Cosmic Tourist” title font printed like a Star Wars scroll. I already knew from that moment, that this could be my highlight purchase. Perhaps it may look “meh” to most, I dont know but I think one of the personal reasons I was especially attracted to this cover is that it reminded me of my childhood love for a space adventure series of books called the Scott Saunders Space Adventures written by….Patrick Moore. Yes, he dabbled in children’s fiction back in the 70s in case you didnt know. These were awesome thrilling adventures for me at the time rooted in basic scientific facts featuring moon bases, robots and black holes. I still have those books (6 in all) so I flicked through them today and on reflection, the characters seem quite bland but although its no Harry Potter, I suspect the sense of adventure is still in there to fuel the imagination and I think he aimed the books at probably around 12 year olds.
Sorry back to the Cosmic Tourist, well of course I am not THAT foolish to not check the content out. So Leafing through the (oo glossy…me like glossy) pages of this large hardback, its a gorgeously illustrated (both photographic and artistic impressions), quirky and thoroughly engaging flight of fancy journey through 100 fascinating and frequently unexpected celestial stops in the universe. Its narrated by the trio with the a bold deceit of actually travelling through space in a rocket, rather like Sagan’s Cosmos spaceship, except the tone here is quirky fun in contrast to Sagan’s poetic delivery. Patrick Moore’s wry prose often shines even through the short descriptions. Yes, its not in depth but that’s not the purpose of a book like this. Its a sumptuous desert of Haigan Daz quality. I absolutely love it and I suspect the 10 year old me would have treasured something like this.
They same trio appeared to have done a previous book called Bang, anyone has that and recommends it?
“Space on my Bookshelf”
Yep Andy, I see what you did there…love it.
Btw, you are not the only one to have bought A Brief History of Time and never read it. There was a poll done a few years back and it actually came up as the number two most unread bestseller. Second to the bible.
Turn Left at Orion I can highly recommend. A superb book. I briefly met Guy Consolmagno (one of the co-authors) last year… a genuinely nice bloke… slightly disconcerting to meet him, as, of course, he is a Jesuit brother who works at the Vatican Observatory… and he dresses in the full Jesuit garb!
Tej, I can recommend BANG!… it’s a good-quality coffee-table sized book, with a host of information about cosmology. Of course, cosmology was hardly Patrick Moore’s strong point, which is why he brought in Brian May and Chris Lintott as co-authors. And there are lots of pretty pictures for you 😉
Speaking of pretty pictures, the is one further book I can recommend, though I suspect it’s out of print and rather expensive. Full Moon by Michael Light (1999) draws on the photographs from the Apollo missions – it is an awe-inspiring book… the imagery is simply superb. Fortunately, Michael Light has put many of the images on his website, but you really do need to see them in print to truly appreciate them.
those are intense photos !
those are intense photos !
Stunning aren’t they?
I think this is my favourite:
Image of Charles Duke’s Family on Lunar Surface; Photographed by Charles Duke, Apollo 16, April 16-27, 1972.
When you look at those photos it’s hard to believe they gave out almost all the astronaut jobs to fighter jocks and not to scientifically-curious and artistically-sensitive souls like wot we are.
Anyway, it’s all down to the equipment. Anyone can take great photos with one of these. 😉
I’m joking, of course. The intimacy of many of these photographs really takes your breath away.
Two of the main traits that make a great photographer are curiosity and confidence, and these guys had those attributes in spades.
Love the Hasselblads. Nice square format, perfect for framing the Earthrise photo. I agree, having great camera equipment helps – though I don’t envy them having to use the controls and look through the viewfinder wearing this stuff…
Courtesy of Mr Twitter, I came across this website listing five books that Bletchley Park genius Alan Turing borrowed from his school library: It’s got Albert Einstein, James Clerk Maxwell, two other science/universe books – and Lewis Carroll.
There’s a link in that website that supposedly takes you to the full ist but I don’t thnk it’s working. However, someone else has got that list and tried to track down as many of the books as possible – so have a look at the longer list with 16 titles here.
Okay, editing this entry again because I’ve just realised that this second list actually takes you to PDF scans or HTML versions of the 16 books listed. So you can read, online, titles such as:
Mathematical Recreations and Essays by W. W. Rouse Ball
Space, Time and Gravitation and The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington
Sidelights on Einstein by Albert Einstein
Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes by Thomas William Webb (amusing that Neptune gets just half a page!)
and for any economists out there, Supply and Demand by Hubert D. Henderson
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