15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
One of the best texts going,
This review is from: Introduction to Astronomy and Cosmology (Paperback)
There's a lot to understand about modern astronomy, and this handily-sized book has a good go at covering pretty much all of it in just 341 pages! It's not the first to embark on a complete introduction to astronomy and cosmology, but it's certainly one of the better offerings.
Morison's text, which originally formed a series of lectures, is printed on superb-quality paper, successfully supplemented with a rich picking of glossy photographs that provide added interest and explanation.
Occasionally sounding a little dry, the text generally runs smoothly, is bang up-to-date, and all cut up into convenient, self-contained sections that can be read in a dip-in, dip-out sort of way. Morison deals with everything from the Big Bang and dark energy, to the different designs of telescope. There are a few bloopers, though; the author claims the Sun would burn for about 1000 years were it made of coal; it's actually more like 5000 years. He then wags a finger at people who use the term 'The Theory of General Relativity', as we should be using 'The General Theory of Relativity'. Amusingly, on the very next page, he uses the wrong version!
What I felt Morison isn't so good at is making the maths, which makes regular and appropriate appearances in the text, as easy to understand as it could be. This is an introductory text, and I did think a gentler leading of hand into the equations might help many readers. Some of the explanatory diagrams are also a bit on the vague side. The diagram of the Sun's proton-proton nuclear reactions, for example, were difficult to grasp, even though I've studied them previously! On the plus side, he has a technicolor Hertzsprung-Russell diagram to be proud of!
Inevitably, a book like this has to end up being compared with what I think are the very best of introductory texts, the Open University's Astronomy & Planetary Science course books. Other than falling a bit flat on the maths explanations, I think there's very little on which to mark Morison down, so he's a close second to the OU; quite an achievement!
Overall, a very well thought-out book that lucidly covers a comprehensive range of topics in an attractive format. It does mean that nothing is covered in great detail, but that's a reasonable trade-off. It's not a cheap book, but if you want to understand astronomy at more than a hobby level, or you're a student of astronomy, then it's certainly worth digging that bit deeper into your pockets for.
This review also appears in Astronomy Now magazine.
(C) John Rowlands 2009.