Inspirational astronomy books

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Martin Mobberley

In terms of leaving the greatest impression at an early age on me it would have to be Patrick’s Observer’s Book of Astronomy, 1967 edition, acquired in January 1968. I had just turned 10, and a friend of mine had also turned 10. For his birthday my parents bought him the Observer’s book of  Astronomy. When I saw the book and the wonderful illustrations by Leslie Ball, I just had to have one too! There were also pictures of huge amateur telescopes in there which I did not realise existed. At the age of 9 I’d thought the tiny Prinz refractors in Dixons were all you could ever get!

Here’s an interesting twist….at that time my parents lived on the base at RAF Marham, just 100 yards from where the failed abduction took place last week…. In fact, to visit my friend I had to cross the same main road which has been in the news this week!

Of course, it was an exciting time, with Apollo 8 at the end of 1968, and Apollo 11 landing on the Moon the next year. For me, an extra factor was that I was a big fan of Dr Who and  Fireball XL5, so had all the Annuals to read……. Fictional books, but space fiction.

Prior to 1968, like Gary, I had the 1965 ‘Ladybird Book of the Night Sky’ by Mary Bruck, and still  have it. Also, the 1964 Ladybird Book ‘Exploring Space’ (wonderful illustrations inside) and the 1967 Ladybird Book ‘How it Works – the Rocket’.

I think the book I most desired above all else when I first saw it (in 1969) was Kenneth Gatland’s The Pocket Encyclopedia of Spaceflight in Color: Manned Spacecraft. The cutaway illustrations of rockets and spacecraft were just brilliant!

Similarly, Patrick’s Atlas of the Universe that came out in 1970 was mind-blowing at the time. It was almost too heavy for a 12 year old to pick up without suffering a hernia, and the quality was incredible.

I can also recall the sheer joy of buying The Sky at Night Volume 4 in 1972 at Foyles in London, when everything was priced in guineas! You didn’t hand the book you wanted to the cashier….. Instead, you showed the unbelievably ancient shop assistant the book you would *like* to purchase ‘please’ and they went somewhere secret to see if they had it in stock! After about 15 minutes, just as you were wondering if they had passed away, they trudged back, at tortoise pace, with an identical copy….

The cashier then inspected your £5 note with considerable care and you had to countersign the receipt if I recall…….It was like visiting Flourish & Blotts in Diagon Alley….