9 Good Astronomy Books

Here are some suggestions for armchair astronomers and clouded-out stargazers who need a good astronomy fix. I’ve read and enjoyed every one of these astronomy books over the years, and I think you’ll enjoy them too…

First, two how-to guides…

Nightwatch, by Terence Dickinson. The perennial how-to guide for new stargazers, this book is packed with knowledge and recommendations for things to see, along with an overview of astronomical knowledge for the casual stargazer. I still learn new things every time I read it.

Turn Left at Orion, Guy Consolmagno. A close runner-up to Nightwatch, this guide includes a hundred bright deep-sky objects to find in the night sky throughout the year, and what to expect when you see them.

For those who enjoy a good story…

The Day We Found the Universe, Marcia Bartusiak. An well-researched and engrossing tale of astronomers in the late 19th and early 20th century who discovered the nature of galaxies and the distance scale of the universe.

The Sun Kings, Stuart Clark. Another great story of how scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries discovered how solar activity affects the Earth (this was once a preposterous idea). Full of colourful characters: obstinate, brilliant, and tragic.

A More Perfect Heaven, Dava Sobel. The latest historical non-fiction from Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and The Planets. I had a Q&A about this book on this site.

Journey To Palomar (Video). The best video about astronomical history I’ve seen in years. It recounts the story of George Ellery Hale, a remarkable man who fought physical and mental health problems to build the three biggest telescopes in the world during the peak era of industrialization in the United States, a time when it seemed anything was possible. Based on the book The Perfect Machine by Ronald Florence.

For armchair astronomers and cosmologists…

The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene. A great introduction to the current understanding of the structure and origin of the universe. There are some quite mind-bending ideas here, all well explained by a professional cosmologist. There’s a video version also, produced for the PBS show Nova.

For skeptics and pop-culture fans…

Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait. An amazingly entertaining book that debunks astronomical fallacies, urban myths, and other nonsense that reinforce misunderstandings of astronomy and physics.

For those who want to a full survey of astronomical knowledge…

Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris. An absurdly ambitious and successful book that recounts how mankind discovered its place in the universe. Ferris enlivens the science with crystal-clear analogies and engaging stories of scientists, from Ptolemy and Copernicus to Hubble and Gell-Mann, who made the key discoveries that led to our current understanding of the cosmos. This is one of the best works of popular science of the past century.