Don’t Just Take My Word For It

A new astronomy book by David Dickenson is well worth reading

by Brian Koberlein | 23 November 2018 | Astronomy

As the holiday gift-giving season approaches, I’ve started to get questions about what to buy someone who’s interested in astronomy. The hardest question to answer has been what book to get someone interested in observing the night sky.

There are lots of books out there for children, with cute drawings and simply explained basic concepts. There are also a few books out there for advanced amateur astronomers. If you’re ready to grind your own mirrors and hone your craft, you’ll find what you need. What’s missing is the middle. Anyone from about 12 with an interest in astronomy but little experience. For those folks I would typically recommend looking up a local astronomy club. As for books in that middle range, there just hasn’t been much. Which is a shame, because that middle range is where most folks are. So I was pleasantly surprised when this book arrived in the mail1.

The book has clear but detailed information for those looking to build skills as an observer.

The book has clear but detailed information for those looking to build skills as an observer.

Intermediate books aren’t often written because it’s difficult to get the right balance. You need to have a density of information to be truly useful, but you also need enough introductory material to hold a general audience. The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos does this masterfully.

Overall, the book is gorgeous. It has wonderful astronomical photos, and the diagrams are colorful and clear. But it is in the prose where the book truly shines. It starts with an overview of the night sky and how to orient yourself for naked eye observing. It then goes deeper into topics. How to choose a first telescope, viewing asteroids and deep sky objects, even an introduction to astrophotography. All of it is presented in clear detail, with plenty of photographs and diagrams. At the same time, the text remains engaging for general readers.

For casual readers, there are plenty of great pictures as well as interesting background topics.

For casual readers, there are plenty of great pictures as well as interesting background topics.

The strength of this book is how well it covers that difficult middle ground. Even if you have some good experience in amateur astronomy, there are plenty of tips and tricks to make it worth your while. If you know a young aspiring astronomer, this is an excellent introduction to observational astronomy. It is also a perfect companion for anyone getting their first telescope this year. They will find it useful for years to come.

But even if you just have a passing interest in astronomy, Dickinson’s book is worth having. If you’ve ever wanted to know just how astronomers capture beautiful images, now’s your chance.

In short, I love this book. And I think you will too.


  1. I know the folks involved with this book. Specifically, I’ve done paid writing for Fraser Cain in the past. Fraser sent me a copy of the book, but I was not asked to review the book and was not paid for this post.

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