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A Passion for the Planets: Envisioning Other Worlds, From the Pleistocene to the Age of the Telescope [Paperback]

William Sheehan

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Review

From the reviews:

“Sheehan offers an interesting analysis concerning the effect of advances in art on astronomy and illustrates his points with selections of poetry and art. … illustrations and photographs are excellent. The footnotes and an index are useful additions. This work … will be of most interest to amateur astronomers. Summing Up: Recommended. Public libraries.” (M.-K. Hemenway, Choice, Vol. 48 (3), November, 2010)

From the Back Cover

Astronomy is by far the most popular of the physical sciences, enticing enough to become a major cultural preoccupation for many, and for some an enthralling scientific activity which veritably rules their lives. What is the nature of that seemingly unstoppable attraction? In this lively and compelling account, William Sheehan – professional psychiatrist, noted historian of astronomy, and incurable observer - explores the nature of that allure through the story of man's visual exploration of the planets.

In this volume, the first of a trilogy, Sheehan starts with observational astronomy’s profound and lasting effect on his own life, setting the points of embarkation for the journey to come. He travels across the historical landscape seeking the earliest origins of man's compulsion to observe the planets among the hunter gatherers of the upper palaeolithic, and traces the evolving story from the planetary records of the earliest cities, to Pharonic Egypt through to Hellenistic Greek astronomy culminating in Ptolemy. The necessity to observe played its part in the perceptual changes wrought by the Copernican revolution, as well as the observational advances achieved by such extraordinary characters as Tycho with his sharpest of eyes, and his luxurious practice of total astronomy. The two epochal advances published in 1609, both born through planetary observation, namely Kepler's discovery of the true nature of the orbit of Mars and Harriot and Galileo’s observations of the Moon, have a pivotal place in this account.

Sheehan weaves a rich tapestry of social and technological settings, patronage and personalities, equipment and skills, cosmologies and goals, motives and compulsions to try to explain why we have observed, and continue to observe, the planets.

The compelling text of A Passion for the Planets is enhanced by the specially commissioned planetary artwork of Julian Baum, himself son of a noted planetary observer and historian of planetary observers, and Randall Rosenfeld.

A Passion for the Planets will be of interest to all amateur astronomers; active planetary observers; armchair astronomers; those interested in the history of astronomy; the cultural history of science; and astronomical art.

About the Author

William Sheehan is the author or co-author of a number of widely acclaimed books on astronomy, including Planets & Perception: telescopic views and interpretations, 1609-1909 (1988), which was named a Book-of-the-Year by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Worlds in the Sky (1992), a Main Selection of the Astronomy Book Club, The Immortal Fire Within: the life and work of Edward Emerson Barnard (1995), The Planet Mars (1996), In Search of Planet Vulcan (1997), Mars: the lure of the Red Planet (2001), Epic Moon (2001) and Transits of Venus (2004).

The author of a hundred fifty popular articles on astronomy, he is a contributing editor to Sky and Telescope, usually writing about unappreciated historical interludes involving the study of the Solar System. A 2001 fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for structure and evolution of the Milky Way, Gold Medalist of the Oriental Astronomical Association for his work predicting and observing flares on Mars in 2001, and honored by the International Astronomical Union with asteroid no. 16037 (Sheehan), he has observed Mars at the close oppositions of 2003 and 2005 with the 36-inch refractor at the Lick Observatory and lectured on astronomical topics around the world. Professionally, he is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist with an interest in Aspergers Syndrome/autism, functional-brain imaging, and evolutionary psychiatry.

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