Home Magazine Resources Store

Book Reviews

Deep Space Propulsion: A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight

The Story of Astronomy

Exoplanets: Finding, Exploring and Understanding Alien Worlds

Space Probes: 50 Years of Exploration from Luna 1 to New Horizons

Deep Sky Wonders: A Tour of the Universe




Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest space news e-mailed direct to your desktop.

Enter your e-mail address:

Privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose.

Book Reviews

Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences
Author: Bernard Lightman

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

ISBN: 978-0-22-64811-80

Price: £31 (Pb), 568pp

Check prices on Amazon

amazon.co.uk                 amazon.com

It was in Victorian Britain, with its increasingly literate population, abundant discoveries and inventions, that the provision of science for popular audiences first assumed a serious cultural significance. And while Bernard Lightman in this detailed and scholarly study deals with a wide spectrum of popular science, it is his chapters dealing with the popularisation of astronomy which will be of special interest for AN readers.

Professor Lightman traces the changing ways in which science was communicated and especially the problems inherent in making intelligible the new sciences of the mid and late 19th century, such as nebular cosmology and spectroscopy. Modern day readers might also be surprised to find that the Victorian age was also fascinated by the idea of there being life on other worlds, and popular communicators such as Thomas Dick, Richard A. Proctor, and Sir Robert Ball lectured and wrote extensively upon it.

What comes over so powerfully in Lightman’s book, however, is the imaginative power and energy that was devoted to scientific popularisation of science in Victorian Britain. Yet most striking, is the way in which many debates that are still ranging in eduction circles today were first seriously aired in the context of Victorian science popularisation. Such as, do elite scientists have a duty to communicate with the public and how much is it necessary for science to be ‘dumbed down’ by full time popularizers putting on ‘wonder shows for the masses’? And all of this 80-odd years before TV.

Controversial by the 1870s was the very funding of elite research. Should new disciplines like solar physics be paid for out of public money or left to wealthy ‘amateurs’? High quality popular lecturing on astronomy, for instance, could be very lucrative especially if combined with accessible journal and book writing, sometimes generating thousand of pounds in a single year for a star performer. Yet when Proctor died suddenly in 1888, his widow Sallie (herself an astronomer, writer and lecturer) found it necessary to apply for a Royal Literary Fund grant to help tide the bereaved family over. One suspects that the high-profile lecturers, just like modern media celebrities, lived rather expensive lifestyles. Victorian Popularizers is clearly and elegantly written, to the highest historical scholarly standards. It is jargon-free, well illustrated and with extensive bibliographical details. A must for anyone interested in the history of popular science teaching.

Allan Chapman

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.

Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.

Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!

Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


© 2014 Pole Star Publications Ltd.