Podcast: Best Space and Astronomy Books of 2005

The year is coming to a close. And in case you haven’t been counting, we’ve reviewed more than 50 space and astronomy books on Universe Today since January. That’s a lot of books, and book fiend Mark Mortimer did most of the reading and reviewing. He joins me today for a special podcast where we chat about his favorites for the year.

Listen to the interview: Best Space and Astronomy Books of 2005 (8.5 MB)

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Holiday times are fast approaching and with it the end of year summaries. I’m biting the bullet and writing my summary on book reviews early in the hopes of not having too busy a time later on. During the preceding year, I’ve reviewed more than a book a week. Complexities ranged from pre-school levels to post-graduate. Topics extended from biographies to technical journals. Best of all, these books were almost all chosen by others so, for me, each had a certain amount of suspense and surprise when cracking open the covers.

In acknowledgement to the editors and publishers, all the books were very well written and each sharply presented. I’m a sucker for diagrams and photographs, so judicious use of these always improves books. As well, my personal favourites include books that discuss why and how. For example, why does the space program seem stalled or how do we know the age of the universe? Further, I like books that address my level, the knowledgeable generalist. Too much detail and I get lost in the science, while too little detail and I can’t discern the worth. As such, I happily enjoyed reading all the books, but for me a few shone out.

Starting at the top, the one I enjoyed and will likely return to is Improbable Universe by Michael Mallory. In this book, Mallory brings together physics, astronomy, cosmology and even the hand of the creator in a very practical, easy reading look. For me, it answers why we’ve been exploring the cosmos for so long.

Next came The Grand Tour by Ron Miller and William K Hartmann. Here in a juxtaposition of real images from probes together with paintings from artists, the authors give a complete, exquisite synopsis of many of the planets and asteroids of our Solar System. With this book, I found ready answers for why we’ve been sending probes for the last 40 years and why we are getting ready to send even more.

The third is Light This Candle by Neal Thompson. This rollicking fun book brings the reader back into the heady days of the space race, fully in the face of the premier astronaut of the United States. Thompson ably returns the reader to events and places of early space flight from a very human angle and answers how we were able to confidently place humans into an environment so alien to that on Earth.

There are others that deserve honourable mention and follow in no particular order. In Astronomy Hacks, Robert and Barbara Thompson show how to select optical aids for viewing the night sky and how to make best advantage of them. Story – The Way of Water by Anne Lenehan is a biography of Story Musgrave. In it she shows why one person seemed so driven to accomplish so much for himself yet at the same time contribute to humans in general. Apogee Books dedicates themselves to space related publishing. Two of theirs appear. One, Atlas – The Ultimate Weapon by Chuck Walker and Joe Powell and another How NASA Learned to Fly in Space by David Harland; both provide great detail on how the United States space program developed and expanded into being the capable industry it is today. The last book is more a compilation than a new work. John Stachel in his work, Einstein’s Miraculous Year presents the five papers written by Einstein in 1905. He does include copious notes and explanations and these, together with the papers themselves, make for a technical, concise and insightful look at this turning point in history.

As well futurist books are a special breed. Many people equate space travel with the future, hence many books examined this aspect. However some regarding current events would likely quickly lose their relevance. Others envisioned space activities so far advanced that they seemed too unreal. However, the book The Space Tourist’s Handbook by Eric Anderson and Joshua Piven is current and realistically considers the future. As well Dennis Wingo’s Moonrush is a very thorough assessment of the why and how of lunar development.

Many other exciting books came under my scrutiny and the reviews are still readily available on the Universe Today website. Of course, I’d also like to thank you, the readers, for your excellent comments and suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to continue sending me notes directly if you are interested in a particular book or have any questions. Or, use the BAUT forum to discuss book contents yourself.

In any case, here’s looking forward to more wonderful books and advances in astronomy in the new year. As well a great thank you to Fraser Cain and all the others participating in the Universe Today Website as well as those in the Bad Astronomy site.

Reviews by Mark Mortimer