Inspirational astronomy books

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    I wonder what astronomy book(s) people regard as their favourite, or the ones which have left the greatest impression: atlases; biographies; technical guides; history of astronomy, or even fiction?

    I’ve got so many yet to read I might not have read my all time favourite, but one book which stands out for me, and it’s not an especially high-brow book, is Patrick Moore’s The Great Astronomical Revolution. It was the first book I’d really read on the history of astronomy and I just found it fascinating. In fact I’ve just ordered another copy to give to a friend as I’m sure he’ll enjoy it too.

    I’d be interested to hear what astronomy-related books others list.

    James Dawson

    David Dunn


    I would have to go for Patrick Moore’s – The Amateur Astronomer in the inspirational category. My first astronomy book, read and reread time and again. Although Norton’s Star Atlas would have to be up there too.


    Callum Potter

    Leslie Peltier’s Starlight Nights 

    Walter Scott Houston’s Deep-Sky Wonders (selections by Steve O’Meara)

    And I too have a lot of affection for my 1950 epoch Norton’s


    David Basey

    Nortons Star Atlas of course, I still have and use my original Epoch 1950 version.

    However for maximum impact and probably the most read is the first Astronomy book I ever purchased and is the one that converted a passing interest into a lifetime hobby. Patrick Moore of course and the book ‘The Observers Book of Astronomy‘. I still have it, the 1965 revised edition price 6 shillings.


    Stewart Moore

    My first book, a school prize, I think. Introducing Astronomy by J B Sidgwick. It was that book, along with growing up at the start of the space race, that got me hooked.  After that Starlight Nights and, of course, Norton’s. Particularly the earlier ones that opened flat.  The little paperback Artificial Satellites by Michael Ovenden, bought on holiday in 1960 on the Isle of Wight for 5 shillings was also a great read.

    Gary Poyner

    John Glasby’s 1971 ‘Variable Star Observers Handbook’ was a treasure to me in the years between my first VS observations (1975) and joining the BAA and the BAAVSS (1978).  Lots of controversy about Glasby of course, but I found this book invaluable.

    Sidgewick’s 1971 edition ‘Observational Astronomy for Amateurs’ rarely left my side in my early observing days too, along with his ‘Amateur Astronomers Handbook’ of the same year.  I still treasure those books.

    My 1965 Ladybird book of Astronomy remains in pristine condition, and I guess this must have been the first book I used with my first telescope in 1965, closely followed by Nortons 1950 epoch star atlas.

    Gone very nostalgic now…


    Denis Buczynski

    Hello all, Very interesting to read everyone’s selections. I am sure the same books will come up time and time again. Here is my rather long list ( not that I am well read)
    Hutchinsons Splendour of the Heavens
    The Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy
    Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes(2 vols)
    Amateur Telescope Making (3 vols)
    100 years of Astronomy ( Waterfield)
    The Amateur Astronomer (Moore)
    Constellations (Rukl)
    Nortons Star Atlas (1950 and 2000)
    The Planet Saturn History of Observations etc( Alexander)
    History of the Harvard College Observatory (Jones and Boyd)
    Starlight Nights (Peltier)
    History of the Telescope (King)
    Analysis of Starlight (Hearnshaw)
    Planet X and Pluto (Hoyt)
    Cometography (Kronk 5 vols)
    Burhams Celestial Handbooks ( 3 vols)
    The Messier Album (Mallas and Kreimer)
    Astronomical Scrapbook (Ashbrook)
    Sorry it is so long, there are many more!
    Denis Buczynski

    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….


    Jimmy Fraser

    Many of the above books.

    A few not mentioned so far…

    The Comets – Visitors From Space by Patrick Moore (1973) Published for the Kohoutek craze…

    A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets – Donald Menzel (I marked the positions of Halley in that one)

    Astronomical Objects For Southern Telescopes – E J Hartung.

    New Worlds For Old – Duncan Lunan (A superb read for those wanting to relive the moon landings and the early space probes to Mercury, Venus and Mars)

    The Race Into Space – Brook Bond Tea Card Album 1971 (Also had the bonus of smelling nice – wish I still had it) a google search of Flickr will allow you all to enjoy it again.


    John Thorpe

    Fascinating to read of our favourite books, and how much we are all in agreement.

    A book I have not seen for many years but which was a great joy in my childhood is Robert Ball’s Star Land, of which my grandparents had a leather bound copy in their bookcase. I have since discovered that Ball was a great populariser of astronomy in the 19th century. I loved the book, though I was puzzled by the fact that it listed 8 planets and ignored Pluto. Clearly Ball had a strong prophetic sense.

     Another huge influence on me was Eagle and in particular Dan Dare, whose travels and adventures did much to make me aware that there was a whole cosmos available for study, extending my horizons far beyond what we learnt at school. I well recall the wonderful representation of the moons of Saturn on the front page in 1953.

    And of course my shelves are stuffed with Patrick Moore’s books, so much so that I find it difficult to choose just one. Patrick always had such a wonderful way of explaining quite tricky concepts really simply, and a book I often refer to when trying to explain ideas myself in a comprehensible way is his Astronomy for O Level, not a book with lavish pictures or even a lot of depth but I learnt a great amount from it.

     Another great explainer who is so interesting to read as well as learn from is Isaac Asimov. His book Black Holes was the first I read which really helped me understand these strange objects.

     Arthur C Clarke’s books are all among my favourites. The Exploration of Space, though now no doubt very dated was a great way to find out about what is involved in space flight in the fifties.

     Like many others, my most referenced book is Nortons, usually epoch 2000, though I greatly treasure the 1950 edition as well. Even in this on-line age it is usually my first port of call for checking the sky.

    Graham Winstanley

    It was the I-Spy the Night Sky that caused my addiction. The Observers book and Nortons soon followed. I even made a wooden version of the equatorial mount in Norton’s for my four inch reflector with spherical mirror. I used to spend a lot of time in the library in Liverpool and borrowed many of the books already mentioned.

    Graham Winstanley

    John Chuter

    I have many favourites but the one that got me interested at the age of 7 was ‘The Larousse Encyclopaedia of Astronomy’

    I read it from cover to cover and being mathematically inclined, could not get over the enormous scale of it all.

    Still true today, some 58 years later

    John C

    Jeremy Shears

    It’s been mentioned several times by others, but for me it has to be Starlight Nights by Leslie Peltier. I read it once every year when on holiday (I read it agian last week!). It reminds me why I love astronomy.



    My list of inspiring astronomy books has something in common with Denis Buczyinski’s.
    Also, like Graham Winstanley, I spent far too long in the Picton & Brown Libraries in Liverpool browsing the astronomy and science section!

    The Starry Heavens                            Ellison Hawks    1950
    Suns, Myths and Men                         Patrick Moore    1954
    The Boy’s Book of Astronomy             Patrick Moore    1959
    The Amateur Astronomer                    Patrick Moore    1959
    Norton’s Star Atlas                              Norton & Inglis   1959
    Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy    L Rudeaux & G de Vaulcouleurs    1962
    Making & Using a Telescope              H P Wilkins & Patrick Moore    1956
    The Sun and the Amateur Astronomer    W M Baxter    1963
    Radio Astronomy for Amateurs           Frank Hyde        1963
    Survey of the Moon                             Patrick Moore    1963
    etc, etc…


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