Armchair Astronomy

Books On My Shelf

There are so many good astronomy books out there, and sometimes I feel like I’ve bought most of them!  For this episode of 365 Days of Astronomy, I’m taking you on a tour of the armchair tour of the universe through some of the books I have bought for my own bookshelves. Listen to the episode and come here for links to the books. You can find most of them listed at my online store (operated through

Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey. ISBN 0-395-24509-5. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. We grew up with this one — the stick figure constellation outlines and skyviews that Rey used to teach the sky have always been our favorites. A great first book to give kids — and adults! A cool anecdote about this book: in 1996 I wrote a show for the Einstein Planetarium at the National Air And Space Museum called SkyQuest.  In it, we trace a little girl’s interest and her ultimate career as an astronomer. One section has a scene with her sitting under the stars at night with a copy of this book in her lap as she uses it to find her way around the sky. Lots of people commented on how they grew up using that book and how neat it was to see it still in use today and in the show!

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey. ISBN 0395248302. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. This is another one we grew up with, and a book we have given to so many friends and relatives as another way of helping people learn the sky. It’s liberally laced with star charts, viewing hints, little mnemonics for remembering how to find things in the sky, and — of course — written in H.A. Rey’s inimitable style. Mark used to correspond with H.A. as a child and some of his most cherished memories revolve around those letters. Every year a new generation of stargazers awakens to the fun of skywatching using Rey’s books; won’t you join them?

NightWatch, by Terence Dickinson. ISBN: 1552093026. Although I have dozens and dozens of astronomy books, there are those “golden” works that belong on every stargazer’s bookshelf — whether you’re a beginner just thinking about getting started or you’re an old pro itching to pass along your passion to the new kids. Nightwatch is one of the “golden ones” of my collection. The latest edition (third) is spiral bound to make it easier to lay out flat while you’re out in the field. What I like best about the book are its clear explanations about telescopes and binoculars, coupled with easy-to-use star charts. Highly recommended!

The Little Book of Stars by James B. Kaler, 2001, Copernicus Books. ISBN 0387950052.  For a little book (it’s only 184 pages and about 4 × 5 inches big) it packs in a ton of information about the universe and the stars that populate it. Go get this book and learn!  And make my friend Jim happy.

Visions of the Cosmos, Carolyn Collins Petersen and John C. Brandt, Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521818982. This is the sixth book I’ve worked on and the second title with Jack Brandt. In our first book (<i>Hubble Vision,</i> now out of print), we talked about the wonderful science being done with the Hubble Space Telescope. That was so much fun that we decided to expand the vision (so to speak) and give readers a peek at the science being done at as many ground-based and with as many space-based observatories as we could fit into a book. The book has 187 photographs and illustrations (most of which are in color). In a way, the images lead the discussion — which begins with an examination of the kinds of astronomy being done, where it’s being done, and how all the discoveries are enriching the discipline of astronomy. If you know somebody who is really <i>into</i> astronomy (or if you are into astronomy), then this makes a great gift! <b><i>Visions</i></b> is available on and is making its way onto bookstore shelves everywhere.

Universe, by DK Books, ISBN-13: 978-0756636708, is a glorious celebration of the universe and how we study it. I got my first copy while working on the Griffith Observatory exhibition in 2005 and it’s been a constant reference ever since.  A gorgeous “coffee table”  book that goes WAY beyond coffee!

Hidden Universe, Fosbury and Christensen, Wiley-VCH Books, ISBN-13: 978-3527408665, is a wonderful exploration of the universe. It just came out early in 2009 and has some of the latest and greatest “visions” of the universe from a multi-wavelength point of view.

Eyes on the Skies, Govert Schilling and Lars Lindberg Christensen, Wiley-VCH, ISBN-13: 978-3527408658, focuses on the equipment and observatories that astronomers have used throughout history to learn more about the cosmos. It”s also the official book of the International Year of Astronomy.  Check it out!

Confessions of an Alien Hunter, Seth Shostak, National Geographic Books, ISBN-13: 978-1426203923, is a great look at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence “out there” from the viewpoint of an astronomer. I heard Seth talk at a meeting earlier this year, and he brings a real passion and sense of humor to this business of finding ET.  I was happy to buy his book for my library and even happier to read it!

Cosmos, Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books, ISBN-13: 978-0345331359.  What can I say?  This book and the TV series of the same name were what propelled my interest in the study of astronomy — and ultimately of becoming an astronomy communicator.  It’s as timely as it was when first published in the 1980s, and touches the intellect and spirit with its lively and passionate look at the universe and our perceptions of the cosmos.  Get this. You won’t regret it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.