This terrific book is an illustrated and textual exposition of the Solar System - a guided tour of the planets and their characteristics - from the transients of Mercury to eclipses and occultations of Pluto and Charon. Except for a few singular and minor omissions, The Planet Observer's Handbook qualifies as one of the best works on the Solar System to date. In fact we've included it on the Belmont Society's "Required Reading List" for the amateur astronomer.
Advanced amateurs may want to skim through the first chapters - dealing with telescope types, accessories, components of the celestial sphere, and introductory terminology. There are however, some eye-catching moments for jaded readers, like the apodizing (antidifraction) screen, a simple homemade device to limit diffraction and the effects of atmospheric turbulence while not adversely affecting image contrast or quality (it's actually an old trick, but not that well known).
This book was not intended to be a "post card catalog" of pretty pictures. Thus there are no contemporary photographs such as pictures of Venus from the HST, or a Cassinni fly-by image of Io against the festooned background of Jupiter. There are however, many pertinent photos and illustrations to serve historic interest and to offer educational impact. We find this arrangement to be perfectly suitable and appropriate.
Some may be surprised and/or a little disappointed that our moon is not included here. But keep in mind that the moon is a subject unto itself, and thus deserves a work of a separate magnitude - and there are several available.
There are some disappointments: Aside from some basic illustrations for the purpose of scale, this work is notably lacking in accurate renditions of the orbital planes of major satellites. Also, in light of various discussions about several other oddities, there is virtually none (or even any speculation) about the drastic tilt of Uranus. We find this to be curiously conspicuous, as it's one of the most striking anomalies in the Solar System.
There is skillful discussion of little-known and much-neglected Solar System components, like the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, and some insightful speculation of such things as their respective associations with short and long term comets. There is also some discussion of an almost ubiquitous "Planet-X", the existence of which is argued to this day as being the cause for Neptunian perturbations. This parallels some speculation (or at least the opinion) that Pluto and Charon are in fact not the ninth planet and its moon, but simply major lost-in-space chunks of accreted or captured "debris".
We found the brief presentation and subsequent explanation of Bode's Law to be the best we have seen offered in a non-college level text. This intriguing mathematical statement is so staggeringly significant, (yet surprisingly simple) that it boggles the mind.
Finally, there is considerable discussion of the data and knowledge that can be contributed by amateur astronomers. This discussion is a clever form of interactive "provocation" and is to be applauded. Author Price emphatically encourages dedicated amateurs to take up the gauntlet, and involve themselves in observational contributions to the sciences, and he makes a fair attempt at describing how to accomplish it, including addresses of where to send your observations and data. However, you shouldn't feel bad if you don't have the time or the inclination to engage in such ambitious activities.
The average amateur astronomer who is even mildly interested in the Solar System will benefit greatly from this work, and will likely gain a great deal of knowledge and insight about the countless and innumerable objects that circle the Sun.