Recommended by Astronomy Ireland’s Enda Lee
A More Perfect Heaven ; Galileo’s Daughter; The Planets : – Dava Sobel
Three books which contain elements of astronomy to varying degrees, but are very interesting and easy reading.Astronomy – A Self-Teaching Guide by Dinah L. MocheFirst published in 1978, it has gone through eight editions, and so it is reasonably up-to-date. Despite being presented in a classroom style, it is comprehensive and very readable, and suitable for advanced users.
Big Bang – Simon SinghA good in-depth look – 520 pages – at the background, and the personalities involved in this major discovery. The book is well written in an accessible and entertaining style. If you are still not sure about how it all works, you will enjoy filling in those gaps.
Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, Volumes One, Two and Three: An Observer’s Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System – by Robert Burnham Jr.This is a set of books which was the bible to astronomers of a certain generation, and is still unbeatable for its readability and comprehensiveness. Published in 1978, so they are becoming a bit dated, in particular regarding the positions of stars, which are epoch 1950. A shame about the typeface; it is also available on Kindle.
Celestial Sampler – Sue French – Sky and Telescope This book is made up of 60 small-scope tours, previously published in the magazine. The tours are well illustrated and clearly and lucidly explained; a very attractive book and a good resource for planning an evening at the telescope.
Cosmos – Carl SaganThis book is based on a ground-breaking TV series which probably launched the scientific career of many young viewers. First published in 1980, and regularly reprinted since, it shows hardly any signs of becoming dated. Sagan died in 1996, aged 62, but his influence will continue for a long time to come, not least in relation to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Deep-Sky Companions: The Messier Objects; the Caldwell Objects and Hidden Treasures, three books by Stephen James O’MearaO’Meara describes each object with the sort of detail which you will not find elsewhere. His enthusiasm and attention to detail is very impressive. Only the Messier book covers exclusively the northern hemisphere; the other two include a great deal of the southern sky which is not visible from Ireland.
Deep-Sky Wonders – Walter Scott HoustonPublished in 1999 by Sky Publishing, the book is a compilation covering each month of the year, mined from nearly fifty years of his column in Sky and Telescope magazine. His reputation as an insightful writer is well deserved.
Human Universe – Professor Brian Cox and Andrew CohenWritten to accompany the TV series, the book contains detail which was not covered in the TV version, and owners of the DVD will find enough new material to keep them engaged. Are we alone, why are we here, what is our future?
Norton’s Star Atlas – Edited by Ian RidpathNow in its 20 th and probably it’s final edition, it has been around since 1910. The original Mr Norton has long since passed on, and there are better atlases to be found, undermining it’s raison d’ ê tre, but it has a Reference Handbook section which is excellent. On some versions, Chart 13 on page 168 is missing most of its details, and there are other misprints; a re-print corrected these, but both versions are in circulation. So check before you buy.
Observer’s Handbook – The Royal Astronomical Society of CanadaThe 2020 edition is the one hundred and twenty fifth year of publication. It is absolutely packed with interesting information on all possible aspects of astronomy, and then some. There is a USA version, which seems to be for slightly lower latitudes, so the Canadian version is more suitable for Irish users.
Rare Earth – Peter D. Ward and Donald BrownleeWhy Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Published in 2000, and contains some powerful arguments which are well worth reading. While not without its detractors, it will give the reader a new insight into the place we call home, and how it came to harbour life, and what will be needed to sustain us, if we go to other planets.
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle – John D. Barrow and Frank J. TiplerThe name of the book is based on the fact that our universe seems uniquely tuned to give rise to life; more specifically, human life. This concept is known as the Anthropic Principle. At 677 pages, it is a densely packed statement of the state of our knowledge of the universe, and the history of our understanding of how we got here. Not for the faint hearted, but very engaging.
The Little Book of Stars – James B. KalerPublished in 2001, this little book is a gem, and one of a series of excellent books by this author, most of which are out of print. This, and any of his other books, are well worth the money, if they can be picked up second-hand.
Turn Left at Orion – Dan M. Davis; Guy ConsolmagnoNow in its fifth and significantly re-written edition, it has earned a place on the bookshelf of most beginners with its simple clear diagrams, and detailed explanations of what is on view. A quibble with the earlier editions was that the diagrams were inverted to match the view through the telescope, so that they do not match what is seen through binoculars. So it might be worth checking this, if you are looking at a second-hand version. A winning formula, really well presented. This book should accompany that first telescope.