Unlike some other guides to astronomy you may have read, which can be quite dry and tend to stress the physics and science of astronomy, Rod's guide is an unashamed paean to the joys of the night sky. It does include plenty of practical information about choosing equipment, finding a suitable place from which to observe, observing techniques and so forth, and these are all dealt with in a friendly, non-technical fashion. The thing which sets this book apart from the rest, however, is the way in which the author is unafraid to 'wax lyrical' about the magic and mystery of the heavens.
I have been a stargazer for at least twenty five years (i.e. I love to observe the night sky with the naked eye, taking simple pleasure from the stars and constellations and trying to relate them to the ancient myths and legends that named them) and have only recently started to observe with a telescope: I would never have taken up astronomy if it was just a means of recording data and observing stellar variations: the night sky is the greatest show on (above) earth. By finishing each chapter with an imaginative reflection on the night's observations, Rod addresses our sense of wonder and unrequited yearning for the infinite. Even the chapter headings have a lyrical quality: 'Requiem for the Dead Stars', 'Burning Heart of the Hunting Dogs', etc. Here is a sample of one of these reflective chapter endings:
"Late on an August evening, standing out under an open sky with my telescope, I sense the season beginning to die. Summer warmth left my bones hours ago, and the dew and an early morning breeze start me shivering....On those nights when I visit the stellar graveyards that extend all down the Milky Way, horizon to horizon, even a warm sweater doesn't repress all the shivers."
So, having said all that, 'why only four stars?' I hear you wondering. Well, there is one aspect of this book with which I am in strong disagreement. This does not only apply to Rod's book - many of the leading writers of these 'Backyard/Urban/Beginner's' guides are guilty of the same faux pas. Having devoted about nine-tenths of the book to an in-depth explanation of the various techniques for finding stars/planets/DSOs, (star-hopping, eyepiece-hopping, etc.) and having exhorted the reader to immerse himself/herself in the wonders of the firmament, in the section on equipment he recommends the use of 'Go-To' technology'! This to me is a massive contradiction, for if there is one thing calculated to deter newcomers to astronomy from taking the time and trouble to learn about the night sky for themselves it is the computerised telescope. Before you accuse me of being a purist, I have no ideological objection to computerised scopes (I own one myself!) - they are indispensable for astro-imaging, and anyone who has ever experienced the constant nudging of a big dob at high mags will appreciate the joys of auto-tracking! No, my objection stems from the fact that much of the fun of stargazing comes from learning the locations of the various stars, planets and DSOs together with the immense satisfaction of tracking down the often faint, hard-to-find galaxies and nebulae that are our quarry. I can only think that this 'cognitive dissonance' that seems to afflict so many leading astronomy writers stems from the fact that computerised scopes now seem to be the 'way of the world'. All the leading manufacturers such as Meade, Celestron, Skywatcher etc. are producing an ever-increasing proportion of computerised scopes, and while I have never seen an example of one of these writers promoting any one brand over the others, many of them have close relationships with the manufacturers, reviewing their products and acting as consultants to the industry, so maybe disparaging the ubiquitous 'Go-To' could be seen as 'biting the hand that feeds them'!
That little caveat aside, however, this is an excellent guide both for newcomers and experienced astronomers alike and I heartily recommend it!
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This book has been written in a style that is relaxed, logical and speaks to the layman who is just learning astronomy in a language that he can understand. It also answers the questions that are buzzing around in a newcomer's, to astronomy, mind regarding suitable telescopes for urban, light polluted area, describing ways to combat problems in an encouraging way. A really good book and not for just the beginner which dispenses of myths and shows commonsense ways to enjoy astronomy.