Sunday, 24 October 2010

Hubble: Window on the Universe – Giles Sparrow ****

The Hubble space telescope has provided a massive step forward in producing images of everything from planets to distant galaxies – and this is a massive picture book, detailing Hubble’s achievements and rather a lot more. We’re talking genuinely massive here: at 37cm x 30, this isn’t so much a coffee table book as a book you could make a coffee table out of.
In a way, the title of the book is too confining for what’s actually in it. A lot of the content is from or about the Hubble telescope, but there are also images from a range of other telescopes and probes. We begin with a brief introduction to the telescope itself, then set out on a voyage across the solar system (this is where we particularly get images from other probes, such as the Mars landers). This continues to expand, taking in stars, the stunning photographs of nebulae and galaxies we have come to associate with Hubble, and finally the universe as a whole. Along the way we see how the different missions to maintain the telescope have changed things, including the first big fix to the misshaped mirror that turned images from fuzzy to crystal clear.
It’s hard to fault the photos – they are superb, and of course having that much page space means some can be presented in a truly grand fashion. The double page spread of the Crab Nebula, for example, is stunning. The text is fine, if a little summary sometimes. However, given its size and weight, I don’t think many people could be bothered to try to read this book from cover to cover. It genuinely is a popular science coffee table book, to flick through and pause in wonder at a randomly selected page – but none the worse for that.
We have a lot of books come through the office – most of them don’t stay too long, but I’ve a feeling this is one we won’t be saying goodbye to. It’s going to stay.
(Note cover has been redesigned since the one shown)
Hardback:  
Review by Jo Reed

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