‘The knowledge’ is a series of titles aimed (so says series editor Jane O’Shea) at demystifying subjects by providing an accessible introduction that will also be of interest to the more informed reader. This book, by a BBC Sky at Night co-presenter, succeeds for the most part in its first aim, but I cannot say it does so for the second.
Within ten easily digestible chapters, we run the gamut of astronomy’s origins, classes of celestial objects, their appearance and how amateur and professional astronomers study them. Each topic is given concise treatment in very simple terms; bite-sized ‘spotlight’ summaries that hardly ever over-run a page — and frequently much less.
Unfortunately the undue compactness of some texts makes them little more than extended dictionary definitions, an approach that has created some odd balances. For example, use of a finder scope gets more than a page, yet observing the Moon with a telescope merits barely a half.
But brevity is not the same as accessibility. Many items read as if an original text has been cut so repeatedly that what little remains barely hangs together. Certainly, there are passages that seem to have been so squeezed into a breathless time limit that one is led to wonder what limitations of space and format were placed on the author after the first draft was submitted.
Never-the-less this book does address the needs of a complete novice who may be thinking of taking further steps in the subject (or an interested ‘outsider’ who needs a bluffer’s guide). It assumes no previous familiarity and has an eclectic textual arrangement that suits either casual dipping or end-to-end study. Not so much a beginners’ guide; more a taster. However, it does not demystify — its information is insufficient for that.
It could really do with treating the reader to a little more depth. Indeed, I feel that unappeased appetites will soon be searching for richer meat.
Reviewed by Steve Ringwood