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What book(s) got you started in astronomy?

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#101 CelestronDaddy



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Posted 27 November 2017 - 12:25 PM

I got interested in astronomy in elementary school in the mid 1960's. I don't recall any book but I did I have an interest. It was the first issue of Astronomy magazine that really caught my attention. Don't remember the year but I think it was somewhere in the 1975 to 1976 timeframe. The books came after that ...


EDIT:  Looks like the first issue was August 1973!  I was off a couple of years.  Freshman year of high school ...

Edited by CelestronDaddy, 27 November 2017 - 12:32 PM.

#102 caussade


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Posted 03 February 2018 - 01:00 PM

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the replies to this topic, and would like to share some thoughts and anecdotes on the book (and the author) that got me started in astronomy.


The first serious book that I read in this field was Amateur Astronomy by Sir Patrick Moore (1968).  This amazing work got me firmly started into amateur astronomy back in 1983, when I was 12.  As has been said before, this publication had originally appeared in Britain, in 1957, under the title The Amateur Astronomer.  Although I did not own the book, I repeatedly kept borrowing it from my school library, which fortunately had some excellent titles on astronomy.  I cannot stress enough how fundamental this book was on my astronomical upbringing.


Sir Patrick's spontaneous, off-the cuff writing style—very much in line with his speaking style—was much criticized by some of his fellow authors at the time in Britain, but the public loved it and he went on to publish dozens of successful titles.  Amateur Astronomy has a direct, conversational style that I enjoyed immensely, and that I consider the epitome of what astronomy popularization texts should follow.  Amateur Astronomy was both instructive and fun to read, features that hardly ever come together and that jointly are a sign of effective writing.  The style was even elegant and polished, but within the scope of popular writing.


I started learning the sky in December 1983 and through January 1984 using the 14 star charts that were included in Appendix XXVII.  There are 2 key charts highlighting Ursa Major and Orion, 8 charts for the northern and equatorial regions of the celestial sphere, and 4 others for the far southern areas of the celestial sphere.  Although a bit crude—I could already tell at the time—I loved them as they were easy to read and not overcrowded like so many other star charts.  I learned not only the shape of the constellations, but even went on to learn and memorize the main proper names and Bayer designations of stars, most of which I still remember.


As I live in the Caribbean, at a latitude of 18 degrees north, I was fortunate that I could see nearly all of the constellations in the far south and I ended up using all 14 charts, including the last 4 southern ones which were of limited use to more northerly observers.  I then felt pity for the author, as Sir Patrick went on to explain in the book that the 4 southern charts had been "drawn to a smaller scale, and are described only briefly.  This is for the excellent reason that I have never been south of the equator, and have never seen the stars which remain below the horizon in Britain and the United States."  How could it come to happen that I was seeing more of the sky than a legend like Patrick Moore?  Of course, the book had been published back in 1968, and Sir Patrick would later go on to visit the south hemisphere on a number of occasions, reaching as far south as Antarctica, thus getting a well-deserved chance to observe the southern skies.


After almost 20 years, some time after the start of the new century, I was able to find a mint-condition copy of the book through a used book reseller.  This is now the main fixture of my personal astronomical library.  I have also found other books by Sir Patrick in the used market.


Not long ago, Sir Patrick would go on to launch a 12th edition of The Amateur Astronomer, a painstakingly reedited hardbound version that was published by Springer-Verlag (2006).  Of course, I reached out for a copy at once, and was glad to find that the star-map drawings were still there (now 16, with the addition of two new key maps), digitally remastered but very much in keeping with the original raw style.  In the preface to this 12th edition he stated, "The first edition of The Amateur Astronomer was published almost half a century ago.  Other editions followed, and I hope it is fair to say that they introduced quite a number of people to astronomy.  But things have changed since then. [...]  There was no point in catering for the electronics expert and computer user; others can do far better than I ever could.  So it was better to retain the original pattern, bringing it up to date but not attempting to go further."


He absolutely made the right decision, and I have much enjoyed this final 12th edition.  Kudos to Amateur Astronomy (the book) and long live sir Patrick!


Armando Caussade, GCSc, BS
Astronomer specializing in education and public outreach


President emeritus and advisor to the board @ Puerto Rico Astronomy Society
Affiliate representative @ NASA Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortium

Edited by caussade, 03 February 2018 - 04:00 PM.

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