The five astronomy books that I would never do away with

By Armando Caussade, March 1, 2019.
From a forum post in the Cloudy Nights website, published March 1, 2019.

I own a modest astronomical library containing about 80 titles, but naturally I have my favorites. The five astronomy books that I would never do away with, in no particular order, are these:

- Moore P. (2006), The Amateur Astronomer, 12th edition (level: beginner)
- Sagan C. (1980), Cosmos, trade paperback original printing (level: beginner)
- Fraknoi A., Morrison D., Wolff S. C., plus 24 other contributing authors (2016), OpenStax Astronomy, version of 20161013. (level: intermediate)
- Tirion W. (1981), Sky Atlas 2000.0, 1st edition, deluxe version (level: intermediate)
- Consolmagno G., Davis D. M. (2000), Turn Left at Orion, 3rd edition (level: beginner)

And a runner-up: Lovi G., Tirion W. (1989), Men, Monsters, and the Modern Universe. These titles have been so influential in my astronomy career that they merit, I believe, a few comments.

Moore P. (2006), The Amateur Astronomer, 12th edition

I have written before on this amazing title (see post below) and never tire of perusing the book and recommending it to other people. It is an amazing work of amateur astronomy not only because of its substance, but also because of its polished writing style and the erudition of the author. If anyone is wanting to step up firmly into amateur astronomy, telescopes and sky-watching, look no further and start with Sir Patrick. This is the book that got me started in astronomy back in 1983, when I was 12 years of age, and I will never give it away. I own both the 6th edition and the 12th edition and love them both.

Sagan C. (1980), Cosmos, trade paperback original printing

Is there anyone out there who has never heard of this title? Thirty-nine years have already gone by since this book saw first light, and it still stands solid. It truly has passed the test of time, and will always be a classic, in the spirit of Flammarion's Astronomie populaire of 1880. I recommend Cosmos not only to my students but to everyone; the language is very polished, almost literary, and the explanations provide authoritative insights of core concepts of astronomy that are not expected to be soon superseded. Also, Sagan's ramblings into the history of science are very illuminating, as are his pioneering insights into the then emerging field of astrobiology.

Fraknoi A., Morrison D., Wolff S. C., plus 24 other contributing authors (2016), OpenStax Astronomy, version of 20161013.

A dream come true, this 2016 book is the first large-scale, authoritative astronomy textbook to be offered for free under an open license. You can download a PDF version of this 1,200-page work at no cost here: I have used this book in my classes as an in-depth reference next to my own Spanish-language textbook, and can truly say that it is on par with other well known college titles. Andrew Fraknoi, a key person in this project is well known for its contributions to astronomy education; seeing his name on the book's cover, as I did in 2016, convinced me this is a first-class offering.

Tirion W. (1981), Sky Atlas 2000.0, 1st edition, deluxe version

As one of the first serious books I got, in 1986, this one really helped me develop as an amateur astronomer. Only 15 years of age at the time, I would spend hours studying the atlas's 26 large maps; later on, I would go out under the night sky with my 840 binoculars and 50-millimeter telescope and examine at depth the star fields that I had virtually memorized. The use of color with a white background makes this book amenable to desktop work, unlike the field edition that was also sold. My copy is the original edition from 1981 that Sky Publishing used to sell, which is now actively sought in the used market by collectors who seem to be paying some premium dollars.

Consolmagno G., Davis D. M. (2000), Turn Left at Orion, 3rd edition

I met Dr. Guy Consolmagno personally in 2017 and was able to get his signature upon my copy of the book. Since 2015 the director of the Vatican Observatory, Consolmagno has the rare trait of combining the passion of both amateur and professional astronomers, and the talent of both the astronomy researcher and the public communicator; and not only he excels with his work, but he is also the friendliest person ever. With the possible exception of Patrick Moore's book (see above), Turn Left at Orion could be the best ever introduction to amateur astronomy. This book has brought me much personal enjoyment, and I frequently refer to its drawings of deep sky objects as seen from small telescopes.

The book that got me started into astronomy

By Armando Caussade, February 3, 2018.
From a forum post in the Cloudy Nights website, published February 3, 2018.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the replies to this topic, and would like to share some thoughts and anecdotes on the book (and the author) that got me started in astronomy. The first serious book that I read in this field was Amateur Astronomy by Sir Patrick Moore (1968). This amazing work got me firmly started into amateur astronomy back in 1983, when I was 12. As has been said before, this publication had originally appeared in Britain, in 1957, under the title The Amateur Astronomer. Although I did not own the book, I repeatedly kept borrowing it from my school library, which fortunately had some excellent titles on astronomy. I cannot stress enough how fundamental this book was on my astronomical upbringing.

Sir Patrick's spontaneous, off-the-cuff writing style—very much in line with his speaking style—was much criticized by some of his fellow authors at the time in Britain, but the public loved it and he went on to publish dozens of successful titles. Amateur Astronomy has a direct, conversational style that I enjoyed immensely, and that I consider the epitome of what astronomy popularization texts should follow. Amateur Astronomy was both instructive and fun to read, features that hardly ever come together and that jointly are a sign of effective writing. The style was even elegant and polished, but within the scope of popular writing.

I started learning the sky in December 1983 and through January 1984 using the 14 star charts that were included in Appendix XXVII. There are 2 key charts highlighting Ursa Major and Orion, 8 charts for the northern and equatorial regions of the celestial sphere, and 4 others for the far southern areas of the celestial sphere. Although a bit crude—I could already tell at the time—I loved them as they were easy to read and not overcrowded like so many other star charts. I learned not only the shape of the constellations, but even went on to learn and memorize the main proper names and Bayer designations of stars, most of which I still remember.

As I live in the Caribbean, at a latitude of 18 degrees north, I was fortunate that I could see nearly all of the constellations in the far south and I ended up using all 14 charts, including the last 4 southern ones which were of limited use to more northerly observers. I then felt pity for the author, as Sir Patrick went on to explain in the book that the 4 southern charts had been "drawn to a smaller scale, and are described only briefly. This is for the excellent reason that I have never been south of the equator, and have never seen the stars which remain below the horizon in Britain and the United States." How could it come to happen that I was seeing more of the sky than a legend like Patrick Moore? Of course, the book had been published back in 1968, and Sir Patrick would later go on to visit the south hemisphere on a number of occasions, reaching as far south as Antarctica, thus getting a well-deserved chance to observe the southern skies.

After almost 20 years, some time after the start of the new century, I was able to find a mint-condition copy of this work through a used book reseller. This is now the main fixture of my personal astronomical library. I have also found other books by Sir Patrick in the used market.

Not long ago, Sir Patrick would go on to launch a 12th edition of The Amateur Astronomer, a painstakingly reedited hardbound version that was published by Springer-Verlag (2006). Of course, I reached out for a copy at once, and was glad to find that the star-map drawings were still there (now 16, with the addition of two new key maps), digitally remastered but very much in keeping with the original raw style. In the preface to this 12th edition he stated, "The first edition of The Amateur Astronomer was published almost half a century ago. Other editions followed, and I hope it is fair to say that they introduced quite a number of people to astronomy. But things have changed since then. [...] There was no point in catering for the electronics expert and computer user; others can do far better than I ever could. So it was better to retain the original pattern, bringing it up to date but not attempting to go further."

He absolutely made the right decision, and I have much enjoyed this final 12th edition. Kudos to Amateur Astronomy (the book) and long live Sir Patrick!