Modern times have certainly opened up unprecedented avenues for amateur astronomers; anyone that owns a smartphone can map the stars with the various apps available. But whether you’ve had your fill of astronomy apps or simply like to build your knowledge with written knowledge you can hold in your hand, only a fool would deny the importance of books in their pursuit of astronomy, cosmology, or simply gazing at the stars. This article takes a glance at some seriously good astronomy books, featuring works from behemoths of the field including Sir Patrick Moore, Steven Hawking, and Professor Brian Cox.
In contrast to the many app reviews here at StarMapping.co.uk, this piece takes a sharp look at the best astronomy books available for purchase today. Populating the list are recognisable names such as Professor Brian Cox and Sir Patrick Moore, with titles ranging from lighter introductory texts to the more physics-oriented Brief History of Time from our time’s leading authority on theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Steven Hawking.
Philip's Guide to the Night Sky (Sir Patrick Moore)
The late and great Sir Patrick Moore of course needs no introduction, but every novice astronomer can learn something from his book, Phillip’s Guide to The Night Sky. This isn’t a book for the advanced, or even the intermediate astronomer; its wording is simple, concise, and lacking in any true technical detail in order to appeal to the absolute beginner.
Its content isn’t light, however. With a chapter dedicated to each of the four seasons and a multitude of sky maps allowing those without sighting equipment to enjoy the night’s sky at only 2 or 3 magnitude, this book is an excellent introduction to astronomy if you’re based in the northern hemisphere.
The Practical Astronomer (Anton Vamplew)
Vamplew’s The Practical Astronomer is, much like Patrick Moore’s guide, aimed at the amateur or budding astronomer. Its early chapters offer a simple introduction to the night’s sky, as well as putting planet earth in context by glancing at the arrangement and nature of the planets in our solar system as well.
There’s a great deal of information in this book applicable to the actual pursuit of astronomy, including instructions and guides for utilising sighting equipment, as well as providing a huge number of illustrations and depictions of the night sky to be used for reference purposes.
A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes (Stephen Hawking)
One of the most famous books and authors in this list, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is by no means a beginner’s guide to astronomy. It does tackle a variety of theories and contains explanations for a multitude of phenomena involved in astronomy, but its approach is, as you would expect from a physicist, based around the physics underlying these phenomena.
The book isn’t the easiest read in the world, often flitting between simple, easy-to-understand explanations of the universe and our solar system and complex theories/explanations of the mathematical theories that inform our understanding of what goes on in outer space. There’s a great deal of humour in Hawking’s writing, too, and the book covers everything from the origins of the universe to multiverse theory. It’s not a stargazer’s companion book by any means, but it can certainly pique the interest of the average intermediate astronomer in regards to the physics, metaphysics, and also the philosophy behind some of the most fascinating phenomena this universe has to offer.
Turn Left at Orion (Guy Consolmagno)
This one should definitely be used by budding astronomers as well as intermediately-skilled members of the craft. A guidebook for the night’s sky, Turn Left at Orion lays down all the information about the moon, constellations, planets, and other celestial objects.
This particular book was written specifically for use with small telescopes, and should be utilised as such by the amateur astronomer.
Wonders of the Universe (Brian Cox)
Professor Brian Cox’s book is as charming as his cosmological knowledge is vast. The book closely examines the universe through comparative explanations of the various physics theories that dictate certain phenomena on planet earth.
The book’s tone never dips into seriousness, with Cox’s awe of the universe constantly bubbling like a perpetually-boiling pot of excitement. There are plenty of pictures and diagrams to break up the text, too, though perhaps a little too many where Cox appears in the shot himself!
The Solar System (Emily Bone)
Bone’s focused approach to our Solar System is a refreshing change to the often generalised nature of many astronomy books. However, this book is aimed again at beginners in the astronomy field, specifically children looking to expand their knowledge about the solar system. The design and illustrations are light-hearted, and the explanations in the book about the solar system are far too rudimentary for older readers. This is a perfect book for children, however.
Astronomy Manual: The Practical Guide to the Night Sky (Jane A Green)
This is one of many astronomy books from author Jane Green with an foreword from Brian May and an introductory section courtesy of Sir Patrick Moore. The book is a perfect companion for the intermediate to advanced practitioners of astronomy. It provides an in-depth exploration not only of the visible objects in space, but also of the tools used to view them. Expect advice and information on how to utilise binoculars and various telescopes to better view the night’s sky – one would expect nothing less from astronomer Jane Green.
Stargazing For Dummies (Steve Owens)
This is a perfect book for beefing up any rudimentary knowledge about the night’s sky and the objects that reside within. Like many other For Dummies titles, this book provides simply-written theories and explanations about the main bodies in the night sky, as well as containing various charts and also goals for which the amateur astronomer should strive.
15 Million Degrees: A Journey to the Centre of the Sun (Professor Lucie Green)
This may be a Penguin publication, but don’t let this fool you: Professor Lucie Green’s 15 Million Degrees is a fascinating exploration of the behaviour, composition, and general importance of the sun to our very survival as a species. Green is a solar physicist, and her knowledge oozes out of every page of this book, which is most enjoyable thanks to the many entertaining anecdotal passages that manage to convey some fairly heavy theories and ideas whilst keeping a light, interesting tone throughout.
Green’s 15 Million Degrees is no beginner’s guide to astronomy. Though most of the concepts within the book are explained well, its pages touch upon some of the more complex physics and mathematical theories that underlie the sun’s behaviour. This book’s level of mathematical detail is akin to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and is one of the rare mathematical books that get you thinking to take its place in this list of astronomy books.