Authors: Christopher De Pree and Alan Axelrod
The following review was contributed by: Greg Lewis:
There is nothing more fundamentally mind-blowing and mind-blowingly fundamental than humankind’s attempt to understand its place in the universe. By its nature this search is neither straight-forward nor complete. It touches us all but only the most scientifically analytic of us can begin to understand.
I am not a scientist but like many people I want to understand much about life, the universe and everything without having the time or brain-power to carry my studies through. Having The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy by Christopher De Pree and Alan Axelrod then is little short of marvellous.
Running to just short of 400 pages, it takes the reader on a journey through the history of the universe and across the night sky as we see it today. It is like taking a tour bus from the Big Bang to the Big Dipper, calling in at vaguely familiar stops – such as supernovas and Galilean Moons – with which you would like a little deeper acquaintance.
The book introduces us to bright and dark intergalactic characters but also fascinating ones down here on earth. My new favourite, I have to say, is Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who lived between 1546 and 1601. Brahe charted the position of nearly 800 stars but it is not this for which I will remember him. While he was meticulous in science, he was reckless when let loose on life outside his observatory and when he lost part of his nose in a duel he replaced it with a golden prosthesis.
The Complete Guide tells us – because it is that kind of book which is full of essential as well as crazy bits of information – that he also invented a pressure-operated indoor toilet, an appliance until then unheard of in Renaissance Europe.
De Pree and Axelrod have managed to put together a perfect guide for anyone wanting to start out in astronomy, a great book to dip into and a superb source for facts to astound your friends. Their information on how to map the night sky by holding your hand out in front of you and finding the positions of stars might be an aid in a romantic situation, perhaps.
Another section creates a rather less warm glow. Did you know that 90 per cent of the universe gives us absolutely no clues as to what it is made of? To cover our blushes over the issue we call this ‘stuff’ dark matter. “You can think of it as an embarrassing truth, or as an exciting unanswered question,” write the authors.
‘Idiot’s Guide’, of course, is a misnomer. The book covers a very difficult subject and is not written like a text book for five year olds. In places, like many guides, it will lose you. But it is broken up into main text and handy information boxes called ‘Star Words’ and ‘Astro Bytes’, which help keep your interest. It’s a trip through the final frontier which takes us not only to the stars but helps in our understanding of our life down here.