There must be quite a risk associated with using the adjective "great" in the title of a book when actually describing the book itself. Serge Brunier probably decided he was safe in doing so when Akira Fujii signed on as the photographer for this beautiful constellation atlas. In addition to the breathtaking wide-field shots of Fujii, the book contains numerous images by other amateur and professional astrophotographers. It is the images of Fujii that steal the show, however, along with the expert editorial judgment of Brunier, that make this an unquestionably great book.
I have a fair amateur knowledge of the night sky, but while browsing the Great Atlas, I feel as though I am seeing these constellations for the first time. The layout is so elegant and simple that it tends to hide how thoroughly well-thought-out it really is.
Each two-page spread is made up of three basic elements. 1) On the right is a beautiful 10.5 x 14 inch wide-field constellation shot by the legendary Japanese astrophotographer Fujii. 2) On the left facing page is the constellation name, season for best observing, some history, a schematic showing the major landmarks, and three close-up detail photos of interesting stars or other objects in the vicinity, with brief descriptions. 3) Finally, there is a clear overlay for the wide-field shot with circles and labels, as well as constellation lines. The book is spiral-bound so the whole affair lays perfectly flat on your table top for easy access.
The package creates an irresistible presentation that makes for easy inspection and close examination.
Many of the constellations (e.g., Virgo, Scorpius), have an additional page with an enlargement of the Fujii photo of the previous page, highlighting a particularly interesting region of the photo. The enlargements are primarily the photographs of David Malin (Anglo-Australian Observatory) with higher magnification, though many readers will recognize the work of others as well. Besides Fujii, the astrophotography of such well known amateurs as Jerry Lodriguss, John Gleason, and Bill and Sally Fletcher are also represented. Additionally, professional images from the European Southern Observatory, the National Optical Astronomical Observatories, and the Space Telescope Science Institute are used as well.
The selection of objects highlighted on the left page-panel is a mix of some standard deep sky objects (e.g, M13) and exotic variable, double, or otherwise interesting stars. Most of these objects are easy targets for amateur scopes, but there are a few exotic ones thrown in for good measure as well (e.g, the "pistol star" in Sagittarius).
This text component meshes very well with the photographs. The information included is a perfect compliment to the photography. Not too much but a balance that feels just right. The brief descriptions of these varied objects provides just enough information and visual stimulation that leaves me wanting more. I was prompted in several cases to pull additional references off the shelf and read about several interesting red giant stars, and also added several telescopic double stars to the "must see" list for my next observing session.
I have a few very small quibbles: the Big Dipper is treated as a constellation, some star names are spelled with unusual variants, and throughout, "zeta" is spelled "dzeta." These quibbles are relatively small though, given a book of this value and stature.
Perhaps the best way to explain my feelings about this book is to say it is the visual equivalent to the three-volume Celestial Handbook. What Robert Burnham did with poetry and mythology, Brunier and Fujii do with photography.
All the above verbiage notwithstanding, I simply cannot express to you how beautiful this book really is. It is not expensive. Buy it. Now.
Why are you still reading this? Go.