Book 231: Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy by Mary Brück

9789048124725Finished reading on May 13th

Rating: 10/10

Who were some women who were known for their astronomical observations, calculations or texts? This is what Mary Brück’s book deals with together with how they got their start in astronomy.

The book doesn’t only include women, who made such discoveries as finding new comets etc, but rather also includes women who made a contribution in a different way, maybe by translating a text, writing a commentary on it or writing popular books to spark the interest of young readers.

It is fascinating and at some times a sad book to read – fascinating in the amazing women in portrays, but sad in the challenges and roadblocks that those brilliant and enthusiastic women faced because of being women.

In it you can read about such famous women in science as Caroline Herschel, Mary Somerville, but also of women who might have been working in the shadow of their husband or brother, such as Annie Maunder.

I found it especially interesting how mostly (with the exception being Caroline Herschel’s mother) the families and parents were supportive in these cases, when their daughter/sisters wanted to learn more about astronomy or science in general, and how brothers would  help their sisters in gaining an education in science. The sad part though ofcourse was to read about how a few of them didn’t really get to practice astronomy in the same way after marriage to a not really astronomy-friendly man, or who had to stop the hobby or work for any other reason.

The book provides short biographies of more than twenty intelligent women who took an interest in the stars. It is just sad to think that now they would have totally different lives, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties in their way, but there would still not be an equal number of male and female astronomers or scientists in general.

Book 228: Welcome To The Universe

pc360_2016-12-21-09-13-52-871Welcome To The Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott

Rating: 8/10

Finished reading on December 18th, 2016

“Welcome To The Universe” is an introductory text to astrophysics and cosmology for the undergraduate student who isn’t learning a science major, or for the well educated adult whose interest in astronomy has gotten further from the usual popular science books that steer clear of formulas and equations.

This book is about some of the ideas in astrophysics and cosmology that are necessary for getting a further understanding of the fields without taking a full mathematical astrophysics or cosmology course.

As such I think it really is perfect book for the intended reader – it doesn’t offend the reader by assuming that equations would go just over their heads, but it also doesn’t get too deeply into them to be of much use for an astronomy major.

The book is quite enjoyable, well illustrated and covers some fascinating topics for an introductory astronomy course. I wish everyone would read this book – you don’t get too much technical details, but just the bare essentials. If you want to find out more – find another book,but this will certainly whet your appetite.

The book has been written so, that you can tell who wrote which chapter, but despite having three authors in makes a complete, an fluid book – you might not even notice that there are three authors, except for when their achievements or work is mentioned specifically.

I got this book right at the beginning of a vacation and I hoped to finish reading it in two weeks, one of which I spent travelling. My book is quite a massive hardcover edition, but I was motivated enough to carry it with me for about three weeks. It was worth it – it was great travel reading in the sense that the beginning chapters are quite simple. However a few chapters in I did start to wonder whether there would even be any new for me information in the book. For a while there wasn’t any. Then there were tiny examples of what was to come – by the end of the book there were fascinating chapters that presented information that I hadn’t read before.

It’s a great book. My rating of 8/10 comes from me not being really one of the intended audience and that I got mildly bored at the beginning of the book (boredom went away by about the middle). It really deserves 10/10.

Book 225: Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

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Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

Finished reading on August 26th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

Wrinkles in Time is a book about an important discovery in cosmology, the team of scientists behind it, the journey to it a for the most part George Smoot’s part in it all.

The discovery in question is the small anisotropies that were discovered by the COBE team that showed that gravity is sufficient to get the structures we see in the Universe now – such as galaxy clusters etc,from the Big Bang.

I’ve had this book sitting in my bookshelf for several years, and as it often-times happens with books that do that, I had forgotten what it was about, why I had wanted to read it,etc.

Now that I’ve just finished reading it, I’d tell the past me that you should have started reading it a lot sooner.
It’s not just another cosmology book written for the general public – it’s much more personal, specific and very interesting.
There is quite a bit of suspense in this book, and adventure, so at times you might forget that you’re reading about a discovery in cosmology that earned the scientists behind it a Nobel prize in physics.

In this book you can read about how the COBE satellite came into being, what was discovered from its data, and also why did the scientists also have to visit a jungle in Brazil and the South Pole, to get to the knowledge we now have.

Just to mention also – you don’t need to know a lot of mathematics or physics to read and understand all of this book, it explains everything relevant you need to know. Do remember though, that the book was first published in 1993..

Book 223: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

PIMG_3157A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Rating: 10/10

A great short introduction to some fascinating aspects of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cosmology and relativity theory that is highly readable, doesn’t get into extraneous details and although it was first published in 1987, it is still accurate.

This has been a book that I’ve picked up and put down after reading a couple of pages several times in life – partly because of not being quite certain about what level of knowledge I should have to read it, and partly because I tend to choose books that have been published more recently over older, although classic books of nonfiction.

So if I’d ever have a chance of inventing a time machine in past to try and find out what I know about this book in present I’d say – the book is certainly easy enough reading if you’ve studied physics in high-school, you don’t need to go in search of an encyclopedia to understand what Hawking is writing about, because he mostly explains everything anyway. Also if you’re afraid that a famous scientist’s writing style might be awfully boring and just terrible – don’t fear, you’ll be through the book in no time and in search of another book written by Hawking.

In general I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about astronomy,cosmology and physics, this book is still a great and interesting little book to read.

Book 220: The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott

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The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott

Finished reading on July 7th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

“The Cosmic Web” is about the largest structures in the Universe, how it was discovered, who were behind it, what were some other competing ideas and how we see it all now.

In this book Gott tells the story of his and some other cosmologists’ part in discovering the structure of the universe that could be called a cosmic web, but has at other times been referred to as a cell-like structure etc.

In the book you can learn more about what were the early ideas of how the great structures in the Universe might look like, and what would be necessary for their formation, and we see that from two perspectives – from the US school, where the so-called meatball theory prevailed and also from the Soviet school where the ideas took more of a pancake shape that all lead to more of a Swiss cheese type of structure.

The book gives a lot of details and background information about the structure’s discovery and what led to it with a few detours to Gott’s own life in science, which makes for nice pauses between the more mathematical parts of the book.

As a book on a specific topic in cosmology, it’s interesting and illuminating, but definitely not an easy read, but you do go over some of the cosmic microwave background surveys, the accelerating inflation of the universe and the inflation theory and the possible end of the Universe as well, so you see the context of the main theme better.

It was really a great book, just it requires a bit of effort from the part of the reader.

Book 218: Astronomy for Amateurs by Camille Flammarion

24508458Finished reading on July 5th, 2016
Rating: 9/10

This book was first translated into English and published in about 1904, whilst it was originally published in French with a title that would translate to Astronomy for Women.

I started reading this book on a particularly hot and sunny day while showing the Sun to passers-by through a H-alpha telescope. I just really wanted something to do while there wasn’t anyone around, and I couldn’t really just stand in the scorching Sun and observe it for hours.

Astronomy for Amateurs talks about pretty much everything that you’d need to know when first dipping your toes into stargazing – what are constellations, how to find a specific one, how to find the planets, how do they look like, when to expect a meteor shower, what comets are, etc.

All of it is written (and translated) with a beautiful style that at first did seem a bit patronizing and strangely pointed – Flammarion starts out with a long tirade about female astronomers and their exploits and with telling how the young mothers should guide their children’s interest towards astronomy and that there’s nothing difficult in it. – That was all quite baffling until I got to the note that said that the original work was titled Astronomy for Women.

Well it was the beginning of 20th century, so it’s quite an achievement in itself that there was a book aimed towards women.

As for the actual information that you can get from the book – there are obviously some things that are outdated, but it’s not the majority of the work, but rather just bits and pieces – the basics (distances to planets and their sized for example) are mostly correct, although there’s the occasional bit where he writes that the largest object between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is just about 100km in circumference, whilst Ceres in reality is about ten times that.

I liked the experience of reading it, even though some things were just plain funny – like Flammarion’s description of Lunar craters as volcanic craters (there are some volcanic features on the Moon, but most of the craters are impact craters from meteorite collisions), and how the Sun gets its energy.

If you’re interested in the level of knowledge and the style of a popular science guide book of ca 1900, it’s a good choice for reading. But if you’re just wanting to know more about astronomy – choose something a bit more current.

You can finf Astronomy for Amateurs on Project Gutenberg.

Book 211: Mapping the Heavens by Priyamvada Natarajan

cover85505-mediumMapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos by Priyamvada Natarajan

Finished reading on April 22nd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

This book started out pretty much the same way as many books about cosmology do – with Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein, Fritz Zwicky and others and the discoveries that the Universe is expanding, that there was a specific beginning in time for it, dark matter and dark energy etc.

But then for my surprise I found myself reading about black holes and then back to the more usual for cosmology – cosmic microwave background and the fact that the Universe is expanding ever faster. But then in the end you get to read even about SETI and at some point you’ll find a long-ish tirade about how modern science in many fields is done in large teams and how Nobel prize doesn’t do justice for discoveries that have been made by large teams – someone will always be left out, who shouldn’t be.

In the beginning I found myself getting slightly bored while reading this book – how many books about Hubble and Einstein can I possibly even bare to read? There’s only a certain amount after which you feel they’re maybe not that exciting people to read about in EVERY book (but you can’t get away without them in case of the history of 20th century cosmology and astronomy etc).

I did find however that this book has a great side to it, that I haven’t met in (as far as I remember) any others – namely the author also discusses why scientists who came up with an idea before might not have been the people known for a discovery. That made for very interesting reading.

If you’ve never read about 20th century discoveries in cosmology (and some mentions of a lot earlier scientists and philosophers), it is a great book to read – you get a pretty much full 360 degree view of the most important ideas and the stories behind them with some extra things to think about.

I probably would have given this book a 10/10 if I wouldn’t be so fed up with reading about history of 20th century astronomy all the time, so 8/10 is even really high.

Also there’s no mathematics or difficult concepts that you would need to grasp to read this book, so it is quite an easy read. And there’s an awesome long”Suggested Further Reading” section at the end. It’s awesome because I’ve read a lot of those books and I know they’re great, and everything I haven’t read I’ve added to my To-Read list :).

 

I got early access to this book via NetGalley.com

Book 209: The New Cosmos by David J. Eicher

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The New Cosmos: Answering Astronomy’s Big Questions by David J. Eicher

Finished reading on April 16th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

There are certain topics that you end up against now and again when for example dealing with young children at an observatory – you can be sure that someone will ask about black holes, someone might ask why Pluto isn’t a planet etc. This book pretty much also answers anything that an intelligent person who’s slightly interested in astronomy might ask or want to know about.

In that sense it’s an excellent book – it doesn’t make things too simple and short, but rather goes into quite a bit of depth about the history behind some of the topics – the size and shape of the Milky Way, the end of the Universe etc.

In this book you get a decent amount of information that should be enough for a first contact with astronomy.

I thought that the big questions have been chosen well – couldn’t think of anything more that really would have to be in there, nor was there anything that you’d really not need to know.

I’m sure it’s great reading if you only ever choose to read one book about astronomy. However if you keep up to date with astronomy news and literature anyway, then this book is more of a reminder of who were/are the people behind some of the knowledge we now have about the universe.

——

I did have fun reading this book right after finishing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. The biggest difference was that while reading Cosmos I could hear it in Sagan’s voice and that in The New Cosmos I wasn’t thinking “…but now we know more”.

My favorite bit in the book :

Too few people anchor themselves in reality in our culture that seems to be centered on laying back and watching s stream of mostly nonsense on TV, in movies, and online.

David J. Eicher “The New Cosmos”, p 15.

Book 208: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

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Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Finished reading on April 9th, 2016
Rating: 10/10

I have had this book for ages. And it took me ages to read. I just wonder how do other people manage to read big format hardback books? It’s too heavy to hold up for reading just before going to sleep, it’s too big and bulky to take with you while travelling or going to work or school…

Cosmos deals with some of the most fascinating aspects of astronomy from ancient myths to the insides of stars and galaxies etc.

I love Sagan’s style of writing, and reading the book brought into my mind the “Cosmos” TV series, and Sagan talking about pretty much the same things, not exactly but almost same.

The initial problem I had with even the idea of reading “Cosmos” was that the edition I have was published in 1981. Since that time a lot of new information has become available about the planets and stars and the Universe, and I was afraid that it would be obviously outdated. It wasn’t.  All of it is so general, that you can only feel that it was written a while back is when Sagan mentions the USSR doing something or mentioning that there hasn’t been a Mars mission with a rover yet and we haven’t sent a mission to land on a comet nor to Titan. But that was actually a fun part to read, because there are several rovers on Mars 35 years later, a spacecraft has landed on a comet and on Titan.

Something that I noticed in the beginning half or so in the book was the proportion of illustrations that were paintings or artist’s visions. It makes sense when you think about the space telescopes that only came into being later on, and now you’d most likely have the same objects as photographed by the Hubble space telescope  for example.

I would recommend reading it – it does carry a bit of a sense of the time when it was written – the dark cloud of nuclear weapons making it’s way into the book, but it is really very enjoyable. (Although slightly depressing)

 

Book 201: The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

PIMG_1057The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Finished reading on January 31st, 2016

Rating: 8/10

This book is quite small and short and tells of the history of the non-existing planet Vulcan, why some astronomers thought it existed and how it finally disappeared because of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity.

I found the book an easy read, the beginning is rather detailed – you find out more about the astronomer Le Verrier and some of the astronomers who tried to see Vulcan transiting or tried to see it during an eclipse.

You get the idea of why there had to be a planet according to Newtonian gravity, and later you sort of get it also why according to Einstein’s there really is no need for another planet to explain Mercury’s orbit.

It’s great for some light reading.