Skip to main content

Astronomy Adventures and Vacations - Timothy Treadwell ****

If you’re into healthy outdoor pursuits (and I mean the Great Outdoors, not your backyard), you won’t have any trouble thinking of exciting ‘adventures and vacations’ to indulge in. But what if you’re a naturally sedentary science geek (like this reviewer)? If you’ve ever struggled for a reason to get yourself out of the house, this book could be just what you need.

The book’s title immediately conjures up a number of standard images – a luxury cruise to the southern hemisphere taking in the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds, an excursion to the far north to view the Aurora Borealis, or that ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to some obscure part of the globe to witness a total solar eclipse. All those things are covered, of course, but so are a lot of less obvious – and significantly cheaper and easier – activities.

The book lists numerous space-related tourist attractions, from museums and NASA visitor centres to working observatories that are open to the public. There are also more historical sites than you might expect, ranging from Herschel’s house and Galileo’s tomb all the way back to Stonehenge and Meteor Crater in Arizona. Then there are the various regular trade shows and events you can go to – not just to ogle a load of high-end telescopes you can’t afford, but perhaps to get your photograph taken with an astronaut, or purchase a piece of meteorite.

The book doesn’t ignore genuine adventures, either – although sadly the best ones are going to cost you a four-to-five figure sum. You can book a trip to the ‘edge of space’ in a Soviet-era fighter plane, or a zero-gravity taster on board a Vomit Comet. Slightly cheaper is a personalised tour of the cosmonaut training centre in Star City, near Moscow – you can do that one, with all the frills (like trying on a real spacesuit), for less than a thousand euros.

When I first read the blurb for this book, I assumed it was written by a US-based author, so I was worried it might be too US-centric for my tastes. As it turns out, however, Timothy Treadwell is a fellow Brit, and he’s done a commendable job of catering to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The result is probably 50/50 between the United States and the rest of the world – which I suspect (at the risk of stereotyping) is a more equitable balance than a US author would have managed. My home county of Somerset, for example, gets three mentions in the book – which is three more than I was expecting.

By its nature, this is more a work of reference than a book that’s meant to be read through from cover to cover (a point the author makes in his preface). That brings me on to my one real criticism of it. The chapters are arranged thematically, but the material within each chapter tends to be haphazard. Three consecutive paragraphs may relate to three completely different geographic locations. I would have welcomed a bit of help here – for example by giving the paragraphs inline headings, or by highlighting the place-names in bold type. Similarly, a geographical gazetteer (or even maps) at the end of the book would have been a useful addition.

Those minor quibbles aside, this is an impressively well-researched book on a fascinating and unique subject (and I almost forgot to mention – it’s lavishly illustrated, with colour photographs on virtually every page). Definitely recommended for anyone who’s interested in astronomy and looking for an excuse to get out and about!

Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Andrew May

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…