Customer Review

8 May 2018
This is a classic work of superb scholarship and great charm. It details, in alphabetical order, all the constellations as they existed in 1899, before the International Astronomical Union gave them their current form. Argo Navis had not yet been dismembered; a few constellations (e.g. Custos Messium) had not yet disappeared. (The Pleiades and Hyades are listed separately after Taurus.) Anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of the constellations will readily be able to navigate this book. In reading half of the book I have found only one typographical error.

First the constellation itself is described: when it was proposed; the legends associated with it; its names in many languages; and so on. Then the stars within the constellation are listed in order of their Bayer letters. Each star is described, giving its multitude of names in many languages, and stating if it had ever been mislabelled by some authorities (which happened unfortunately often). The amount of text devoted to each constellation varies considerably according to how much information needs to be imparted. The smaller Chinese constellations and their star names are also noted.

There are almost 80 pages of indices of incredible thoroughness: a General Index; an Arabic Index; an Arabic Alphabet; a Greek Index; An Index to star references in the Bible; a list of sources. These are essential to the usefulness of the book and they put modern (computer assisted and feeble) indexes to shame.

To give just a few examples of the charming miscellany of information found here:
(146) gives easy instructions for finding one’s Local Sidereal Time by looking at the position of beta Cas in relation to the pole star.
(195) In a passage discussing Deneb (alpha Cyg), the star marking the tail of the Swan, Allen says, “Caesius ... also designated it as Uropygium, the Pope’s Nose of our Thanksgiving dinner tables.”
(Throughout) there are carefully chosen classics of poetry.

There is also plentiful scientific information here, as it was known when the book was first published in 1899: magnitudes, colours and proper motions of stars; orbital elements of binary and multiple stars; some spectroscopic information. The spiral structure of one or two galaxies had recently been discovered. Here it was speculated that these are solar systems early in their course of formation.

This is a must-have and still useful book for any lover of astronomy and its history.
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