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Solar System – Marcus Chown ****

We’ve all seen the book of the movie, and even films based on theme park rides and computer games. But this could well be the first ever book of an iPad app. Not long ago I had a chance to take a look at the Solar System for iPad appand now we’ve got the book based on it.
Let’s get the downside out of the way first. I can’t be as enthusiastic about the book as I was about the app. Not only does it cost three times as much (before discounts) and threaten serious damage to the wrists from its weight, but also the book can’t compete with the interactive aspects of the app which work so well with this material. I also found that, compared with the iPad version, it was eye-straining to read the relatively small white text on a black background. But even so, there’s plenty to like here.
What we’ve got is a coffee table format book, which feels not unlike a Dorling Kindersley book in the way it uses two-page spreads with a bit of text, some great photographs and various graphics and little factoids to expand on the topic. Some of these can be quite surprising – at one point Brian May from Queen pops up, looking like a fantasy wizard in his doctoral robes, with a comment about his PhD thesis on the movement of solar system dust.
Perhaps to keep the translation from the app simple all the pages are black, which gets a little depressing (I got over my ‘decorate in black’ phase in my teens, thanks), but this is more than compensated for by the lush photography, with some superb imagery of the different components of the solar system. It was interesting to compare one of the pages of the book with the app – I randomly selected ‘Exploring Mars’. The basic text was the same (so as with my main criticism of the app, it could have done with a bit more meat), as was one of the key photographs (which could be panned on the app). The book then has four other photographs while the app has a rather more engaging speeded up video of the Mars rover Spirit in action. On other pages, some of the photographs not in the app were well worth having to expand the general feel of the content, so it wasn’t at all bad in the comparison.
Overall, then, an excellent photographic guide to the solar system and the astronomical basics behind it. Not as much fun as the app, and perhaps could have done with some more text (and fewer black backgrounds for text) – but an excellent book for any astronomy beginner, and would make a great gift.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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