Best Space Books of 2006

Beyond Earth, edited by Bob KroneThe Earth has almost returned to its same relative location about our Sun as when I last prepared a summary of my book reviews. While facing the daily ritual of rising, getting dressed and undertaking the day’s tasks, I try to snatch moments to think about this marvel. We are all spinning madly about the Earth’s iron core, which itself orbits ceaselessly about a great fusion reactor that constantly bathes us with warmth. All the while, seemingly through nothing, we hurtle further and further from something called the galactic centre, toward somewhere else. The books I review help me with this perspective of our existence and also help me keep in balance with all the daily news coming in.

The books I read don’t hold any great reflection for the year. There was no significant anniversary nor outstanding celestial display. Most filled in little more nooks and crannys of humanity’s ongoing build-up of information. Aside from being space related, no general theme carried these works into notoriety. From one vantage point, each writer and editor continually showed their great ability in putting ideas onto paper. Prose was sharp, topics were punctual more than verbose and appropriate diagrams and pictures spiced up the pages. This year, like the previous, all the books were a joy to read.

Given this fine writing skill and the timeliness of space research, I find championing these books a pleasurable and rewarding past time. Yet, I find it hard to believe most people prefer television to a good book. I suggest we try countering this trend. If gift giving comes upon you, think of any of the great space books continually being published. Giving one as a gift may be all that’s needed to instill a sense of wonder in place of the monotony of another video game.

The following are a few choice selections from my reviews I’ve completed for Universe Today. Michio Kau’s book ‘Parallel Worlds‘ published by Penguin is easy to read and will quickly have the reader contemplating our place in the universe. He gives a recount of much of today’s fascinating astrophysics and then considers the future, billions of years on. It will definitely move a reader’s perspective off-planet, at least for a while.

Should you wonder how we might get off planet, try Beyond Earth edited by Bob Krone and published by Apogee. This collection of essays acknowledges the difficulties of establishing a human presence in space. But more to the point, it broaches ideas and plans for making it happen. For the most part, its ideas are less technical and more societal as its belief is that we can do it, we just haven’t the desire. It’s an invigorating read for anyone contemplating huge projects or endeavours whether space based or not.

For those who rather spend some time going back down glory’s road, try Saturn written by Alan Lawrie and published by Apogee. This showcases the hardware development and trials for the really big rocket that sent men to the Moon in the 1960s. The accompanying CD depicting engine trials should really exercise your home theatre system. Given that some of the Saturn hardware may be incorporated into NASA’s next generation launcher, this book may be more relevant than most history types.

The final choice selection is Europa written by Richard Greenberg and published by Springer. This book wonderfully distills dry analysis of one of Jupiter’s moons into an appreciation of how difficult it is working at the forefront of knowledge. Yet, it permits the reader to join scientists as they consider the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Perhaps this is how an observer felt when Christopher Columbus returned to tell his tale at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

In addition to these, there were many other excellent books. Some returned to the Columbia shuttle disaster. Others continued on looking at Einstein’s contributions, perhaps as late arrivals from celebrating last year’s hundredth anniversary of his first great writings. Many astronomy books, both texts and guides, came through. Astronomy by Ian Ridpath and published by DK books is a fine one for amateurs. Also, many books specifically for introducing children to space show this topic to be accessible to everyone. Reviews for all of these are found in the Universe Today web site.

I hope these reviews help you in choosing a fine book to read or in helping get someone else better acquainted with our host universe. Don’t hesitate to continue sending me comments directly, or to Fraser Cain, the editor of Universe Today, or to the BAUT forum where anyone may be able to help you. For now, have a great time thinking of the stars, and let’s all try to enjoy another swing about our lovely home star.

Written by Mark Mortimer