From the September 2003 issue

Read all about It

Avid book collector and Astronomy magazine senior editor Robert Burnham lists a few of his favorite books.
By | Published: September 30, 2003 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
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Observers of all levels need good reference books, and The Facts on File Dictionary of Astronomy (Checkmark Books, 2000) by Valerie Illingworth and John O. E. Clark is a handy one.
History of astronomy
History buffs should check out Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger, translated by Albert Van Helden (University of Chicago Press, 1989). Originally published in 1610, this little book conveys Galileo’s excitement when looking at the moon, the Pleiades, the Milky Way, and Jupiter for the first time, using the newly invented telescope. Read this soon after you buy your first telescope, when exploring the heavens is as new to you as it was then to Galileo.
Objects near and far
Galaxies, by Timothy Ferris, (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1982) is by far the best armchair tour going — including gorgeous color and monochrome photos. The best edition is the first, put out by the Sierra Club in 1980, but even the later printings in reduced format have most of the punch of the original.

The New Solar System, edited by J. Kelly Beatty et al. (Cambridge University Press, 1998) contains chapters about every solar system topic. The level of presentation is about the same as Scientific American magazine.

Who would have thought the field of cosmology would be so rife with personalities? Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos by Dennis Overbye (Pan Macmillan, 1993) lets you hang out with the professional astronomers who work with the world’s biggest telescopes in search of the bounds of the universe. After reading this, you’ll never look at astronomers the same way again.

Whether you see it as scientific dogma or simply the best available model for the universe, the Big Bang definitely stirs people’s opinions. In the third edition of The Big Bang (Times Books, 2000), Joseph Silk shows clearly how the model emerged from nearly a century’s research — and also why it has proven so robust.

While it doesn’t qualify as a book, Starry Night software is very useful for amateur observers. This program, for Macs or PCs, offers an exceptionally easy-to-use interface and a realistic sky. To order by phone, call (800) 252-5417.

Two good sites to find both new and used books are and