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on 15 June 2011
Large format hardcover with a great overview of astronomical discoveries
Only three stars?
Although the book is an excellent read, it doesn't mention Angelo Secchi, a solar spectroscopy pioneer and probably the first scientist to state authoritatively that the Sun is a star.
Contrary to other well-illustrated books by Govert Schilling (e.g. The Hunt for Planet X: New Worlds and the Fate of Pluto search for Planet X ... a book which has photographs of each researcher & astronomer involved) we're disappointed with the chosen photos. Of all the observatories and scientists mentioned, there's only 1 photo of Karl Jansky.
If the book was aimed at the young multimedia generation, a better choice of rare photographs would have been wiser, as most have seen the chosen prints online...
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on 24 August 2011
Just over four hundred years ago a relatively simple device called the telescope was invented in Middelburg, in the Netherlands and man turned new eyes to the night sky. He saw for the first time a majesty beyond belief, new wonders that would dispel old ideas forever and thrust mans enquiring mind on a journey to the far reaches of the Universe.

The telescope started a revolution of discovery and transformed our view of the planet we live on and its place in the cosmos. Atlas of Astronomical Discoveries takes one hundred of the most significant of these breakthroughs and tells the story behind the science. Stories of persistence, perseverance, human endeavour and sheer good luck abound in all fields and Astronomy, it seems, is no exception. In truth, the full story behind any one of these discoveries deserves a much larger stage but here we have a snapshot, a snippet of the lives and events surrounding some of the most dramatic leaps in human understanding ever seen.

Each new discovery forms a two page spread in this large format book. On one page individual snippets are told in roughly five hundred words, about the same length as this review and are accompanied by a circular insert, the opposite leaf features a full page related image or artists impression. The images taken by probes, satellites and land and space based telescopes are stunning. It is a shame then, that more photographs - or line drawings - of the people behind the discoveries have not been used for the inserts, only Karl Jansky, the discoverer of cosmic radio waves in 1931 makes an appearance; it would be nice to put a few more faces to the names. If I was being picky I would also draw attention to the title, Atlas suggests that geographical location is important to the books structure, but no such empathise is placed on `where' the discoveries took place, more importance is given to `when' and `who' so maybe Timeline of Astronomical Discoveries might have fitted the contents better. These two minor points, the former slightly disappointing the latter trivial, do not take anything away from the main purpose of this book, to provide the reader with brief snapshots of the most spectacular Astronomical discoveries since the invention of the telescope, in a format that is comfortable both visually and in prose.

This is a book that does not demand regimented reading, in fact the book works better if the reader flips around a little, if the book is put down without the pages being marked and is picked up or reopened in different places. Nor does it expect any previous knowledge, no unpronounceable words or incalculable equations are encountered or required. Just an enjoyable book that you will pick up from time to time and wonder at Galileo's excitement observing mountains on the moon for the very first time, at Eddington's delight announcing his observational confirmation of Einstein's prediction that extreme gravity will bend the path of light to a crowded meeting of the Royal Society or Stephane Udry's incredible discovery of an earth like planet orbiting a red dwarf star twenty light years or one hundred and nineteen trillion miles from home.

Paul Rumsby

August 2011
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