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Stub Mandrel

History of Astronomy - Reading List

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Can I be cheeky and start off a thread for people to post suggested reading on this topic?

My starter for 10 would be The Discovery of our Galaxy by Charles A. Whitney. One or two chapters are curiously detailed - probably as they are his specialist research topics, but overall it's a great overview of how the field developed putting the great astronomers into their historical and social contexts.

Did you know Messier became an impoverished old man who couldn't afford to fix his broken windows, who grumbled to Herschel about constant pains following a fall down a deep dark hole where he lay undiscovered for several hours?

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Nice idea. I rather enjoyed reading "The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope" by Ronald Florence. Not that general, but a great insight into the whole political and technological process surrounding the building of the famous 200" telescope.

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Well done for starting this. It was in my mind to do likewise. Here's an initial quick list of books I've enjoyed.

Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy, Ed. Michael Hoskins. The UCLAN course text book, authoritative, reliable and an excellent over view. Despite this it's readable rather than dry.

Never at Rest, Richard Westfall's vast Newton biography. http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/history-science-and-technology/never-rest-biography-isaac-newton A quick read this is not, but it leaves you knowing quite a lot about Newton! And then you just have to read about...

The Man Who Knew Too Much by Stephen Inwood. It's a biography of Robert Hooke, that dear friend and colleague  :evil:  of Newton's. Very good read. Allan Chapman also has a Hooke biography out which I haven't read but will.

All Galileo's work is available in English translation and remarkably readable.

More modern biographies:

Edwin Hubble, Mariner of the Nebulae. Gale Christianson. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edwin-Hubble-G-E-Chrisitanson/dp/0750304235  Maybe a bit too much basketball in the early stages but then a superb biography of an enimgmatic character, at once admirable and yet flawed. This one's a 'must.' But compare Hubble, who made the two greatest discoveries in 20th Century, with the delightful Walter Baader who made so many more...

Walter Baader, A Life in Astrophysics by Donald Osterbrock. Baader was at the heart of things in the mid twentieth century. A truly great astronomer.

The Immortal Fire Within. William Sheehan's biography of EE Barnard will bring a new hero into your life. Barnard's story is almost beyond belief. Not only the last of the great visual astronomers but also one of the first of the great photographic ones, Barnard rose from poverty to scientific greatness on the back of simply incredible powers of observation. The book was unavailble for a long time but is now back in paperback. http://www.amazon.com/The-Immortal-Fire-Within-Emerson/dp/0521046017

Olly

PS I see there's a new biography of Harlow Shapley now in print. http://images.google.fr/imgres?imgurl=http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OJd5AyAfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.amazon.com/Harlow-Shapley-Biography-Astronomer-Measured/dp/1508950849&h=346&w=225&tbnid=FWfqZceeRd58QM:&tbnh=91&tbnw=59&docid=U0-ZzjeQ9SMJMM&usg=__BuvOLKArUKpayFT1uWSYVUaTqOQ=&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY7JCe8ZTKAhWFthoKHRJ6AbQQ9QEIOjAF

Next on my list...

Edited by ollypenrice
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Not perhaps a 'history' as such, but can I recommend Garret Putnam Serviss' 'Pleasures of the Telescope' published circa 1907....an utterly delightful book, sadly usually only available now as one of those photocopy e-prints or pure e-book (the illustrations are typically not included).

There is a verve and delight in these Edwardian descriptions of the heavens that I find immensely pleasureable :)

GPS also wrote some early SF, which is fun in its' own right.

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Two books recommended for a university course on "The History of Cosmological Thought" by John North:

Otto E. Neugebauer: The Exact Sciences in Antiquity

J.L.E. Dreyer: A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler

Neither of them are quick reads, and Neugebauer assume your ancient Greek is fluent, which can be a bit disconcerting at times, but despite that it is an excellent source for ancient astronomy
John North himself wrote an interesting book on Stonehenge: Stonehenge: A New Interpretation of Prehistoric Man and the Cosmos

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I mentioned these 2 books in the thread that preceded the creation of this forum section:

Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology  :  A comprehensive covering of the topic but I have to admit that I've found it heavy going.

Stargazers: Copernicus, Galileo, the Telescope and the Church  : A very readable book on a fascinating period in Astronomical history. 

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I enjoyed Kitty Fergusons "The Nobleman and his Housedog. Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler: The Strange Partnership that revolutionised Science." about pre-telescopic days.

It's amazing what was done before the telescope was invented.

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Well done for getting this section up and running.

I recently read The Sun Kings by Stuart Clarke. It's subtitle " the Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began " says it all.

The BAA bi- monthly journal contains many interesting articles on the lives of British astronomers, famous and not so well known. I believe that the journals can be accessed by non-members on their web site. They have a very active history of Astronomy section.

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Great idea for a thread. I can hear all the second hand copies getting snapped up as we speak.

I'm enjoying re-reading the great Fred Hoyle's autobiography "Home is where the wind blows" (aka blunt Yorkshireman meets Cambridge). It was his sci-fi novels that really got me interested as a kid. Little did I realise at the time that he knocked them out in a few weeks as a leisure pastime! There's a photo in the book showing attendees at a 1958 conference which includes Hoyle, Sandage, Baade, Wheeler, Bondi, Gold, Morgan, Lovell, Shapley, Bragg, Pauli, Oort, Lemaitre, Oppenheimer, Ambarzumian …. some meeting that must have been!

I can also recommend Malcolm Longair's "The Cosmic Century: a history of astrophysics and cosmology" for a view of developments in the last century.

Martin

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I mentioned these 2 books in the thread that preceded the creation of this forum section:

Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology  :  A comprehensive covering of the topic but I have to admit that I've found it heavy going.

Stargazers: Copernicus, Galileo, the Telescope and the Church  : A very readable book on a fascinating period in Astronomical history. 

The second of these has gone straight onto my list. The story of Galileo, Copernicus and the church is so often grossly mis-told that readng it again from a proper historian should be a pleasure.

Olly

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Ghostdance noted:

Not perhaps a 'history' as such, but can I recommend Garret Putnam Serviss' 'Pleasures of the Telescope' published circa 1907....an utterly delightful book, sadly usually only available now as one of those photocopy e-prints or pure e-book (the illustrations are typically not included).

Garrett Serviss also wrote "Astronomy Through an Opera Glass" in 1888, the predecessor of countless books on binoculars for night sky viewing. It's still a classic!

https://archive.org/details/astronomywithope00servuoft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_P._Serviss

Another Garrett Serviss product:

star_locator_26.jpg?w=450

Edited by Putaendo Patrick
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The second of these has gone straight onto my list. The story of Galileo, Copernicus and the church is so often grossly mis-told that readng it again from a proper historian should be a pleasure.

Olly

Olly,

I'm sure you'll enjoy it.  It gives a such a fascinating insight into the great astronomers by describing their lives and work within the context of the world and society in which they lived.

Allan Chapman is a splendid fellow, for years he has presented the final lecture at the annual Leeds AstroMeet and it is always a real treat.

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Just ordered this. Looks like this forum is going to see a boom in book sales.

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I recently purchased a book titled "Great Astronomers in European History" by Paul Marston,published by UCLAN.Not had the chance to read much of it yet but  seems very detailed and easy to read.

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Paul was the course tutor when I followed the UCLAN course. He was incredibly helpful and sharp. This should be good.

Olly

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Just ordered this. Looks like this forum is going to see a boom in book sales.

With the weather the way it is, what else is there to do?

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Olly,

I'm sure you'll enjoy it.  It gives a such a fascinating insight into the great astronomers by describing their lives and work within the context of the world and society in which they lived.

Allan Chapman is a splendid fellow, for years he has presented the final lecture at the annual Leeds AstroMeet and it is always a real treat.

I have ordered it. I fancied the Barnard book too but at £65 in paperback it's too steep for me.

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Garrett Serviss also wrote "Astronomy Through an Opera Glass" in 1888, the predecessor of countless books on binoculars for night sky viewing. It's still a classic!

https://archive.org/details/astronomywithope00servuoft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_P._Serviss

Another Garrett Serviss product:

star_locator_26.jpg?w=450

Thanks for link Putaendo Patrick :)

'...Opera Glass' duly downloaded. Looking forward to it.

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I enjoy recent history, as well as materials dating back to antiquity. It's fascinating to see the minds behind the theories at work. But a pre-Hubble tome, try: Astronomy by Fred Hoyle. Hoyle was a believer in the Steady-State theory, as well as one of the most prominent astronomers of the 20th century.

A prolific writer, Fred lured many people into both professional astronomy and our hobby as amatuer-astronomers. The book 'Astronomy' was published as a hardcover coffee-table styled book, noted for it's beautiful photographs. Perhaps a copy could be found in the used-book marketplace.

Dave

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I really enjoyed: Günther Buttmann's "The shadow of the telescope: A biography of John Herschel". Written in German but translated in the 1970s into English.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Shadow-Telescope-Gunther-Buttman/dp/0718820878

A thoroughly engaging and easy read, which made me realise what an amazing astronomer John Herschel was, but also gave a contextual insight into both the difficulties of the times, as well as the privileges enjoyed by those born into more wealthy families.

I found another book by Buttmann on William Herschel (Wilhelm Herschel), also written in German but has sadly never, to my knowledge, been translated into English. I'd sent the William Herschel Society a copy of the book and we did a bit of research to establish the costs to get it translated but it wasn't going to be cheap. But if anyone speaks / reads German I suspect the book on William would also be fascinating.

James

Edited by jambouk
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I really enjoyed: Günther Buttmann's "The shadow of the telescope: A biography of John Herschel". Written in German but translated in the 1970s into English.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Shadow-Telescope-Gunther-Buttman/dp/0718820878

A thoroughly engaging and easy read, which made me realise what an amazing astronomer John Herschel was, but also gave a contextual insight into both the difficulties of the times, as well as the privileges enjoyed by those born into more wealthy families.

I found another book by Buttmann on William Herschel (Wilhelm Herschel), also written in German but has sadly never, to my knowledge, been translated into English. I'd sent the William Herschel Society a copy of the book and we did a bit of research to establish the costs to get it translated but it wasn't going to be cheap. But if anyone speaks / reads German I suspect the book on William would also be fascinating.

James

Excellent to discover this. Thanks. Currently out of stock but I'll try ABE books, the second hand booksellers' collective website. John Herschel is rather overlooked these days but was regarded as the  foremost scientist of his age. Darwin was very anxious to have his approval.

Olly

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