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Norton's Star Atlas and Reference Handbook
on 11 September 2012
Its more than 45 years since I bought my first copy of Norton's. Since then three editions I own have fallen to bits with constant use. Then, about 15yrs ago, I swapped to Will Tirion's Cambridge Star Atlas 2000 and Norton's took a back seat.
A recent opportunity to re-look at Norton's lead me to the 20th edition. It's good, very good as a reference handbook that will initially be beyond the needs of most users, hence perhaps the more critical reviews on Amazon by those who still need to learn their astronomy. Norton's has always included technical terms, definitions and sometimes obscure facts that are mostly never needed but are extremely useful nevertheless for a rounded out appreciation of our earth in space and the night sky in general.
Ian Ridpath has done a fine job of bringing the reference handbook up to date. But that's where I stop any praise. The publishers, and I dont blame Ian for this, have asked far more than is necessary from Norton's and it risks losing its appeal as a simple star atlas. Much of the new stuff, astrophotography for instance, should not have been included. Astro-imaging is evolving faster than Norton's ever did and has absolutely no place in this venerable publication. There are other bloated sections that need not be there; who needs yet another comparison of telescope types. Norton's is about the night sky, not the equipment with which to view it.
The 17 star charts are still, without any exception (including Tirion and most of the available planetarium software), the best in the business with which to illustrate the celestial sphere AT THE TELESCOPE. But the new heavyweight format of the book severely limits its use as a star atlas as Arthur Norton originally intended nearly a century ago...the needs of the beginner astronomer have not and never will change...Norton's fulfilled an essential need to find ones's way around the sky but the 20th edition compromise its original unique value. I definatley wont to lug it outside with torch and binoculars, for which Norton's was intended.
Norton's Star Atlas has been done a grave disservice by the publishers in going against its intended use by the amateur. Norton's was always THE star atlas, the reference handbook was always of secondary importance. Now, the 20th Edition is yet another astronomical book on the book store shelves with not much above the rest to merit its purchase...which probably accounts for its severely reduced price compared with earlier editions available on Amazon.
It's a real shame that such a venerable British star atlas should be devalued in the way that it has by Penguin Group (US) Inc, to capture an international readership.
Kevin J Kilburn FRAS
Manchester Astronomical Society
Society for the History of Astronomy