Books : reviews

Emily Levesque.
The Last Stargazers: the enduring story of astronomy's vanishing explorers.
Oneworld. 2020

To be an astronomer is to journey to some of the most inaccessible parts of the globe, braving mountain passes, sub-zero temperatures and hostile flora and fauna. Not to mention the stress of handling equipment worth millions. It is a life of unique delights and absurdities… and one that may be drawing to a close. Since Galileo first pointed his telescope at the heavens, astronomy has stood as a fount of human creativity and discovery, but soon it will be the robots gazing at the sky while we are left to sift through the data.

In The Last Stargazers, Emily Levesque reveals the hidden world of the professional astronomer. She celebrates an era of ingenuity and curiosity, and asks us to think twice before we cast aside our sense of wonder at the universe.

Emily Levesque.
Great Heroes and Discoveries in Astronomy.
Great Courses. 2021

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 11 September 2021

This is the course guidebook that accompanies the 24 lecture “Great Course” of the same name. It is essentially an abbreviated transcript of each lecture, a few diagrams, suggested reading, and quizes. (I watched the lectures, which is what I am reviewing here, and am using the book simply as an aide-memoire.)

Levesque introduces the way various aspects of astronomy were discovered, structured around the people involved and the telescopes they used. Although I usually prefer a focus on the science, rather than the scientists, astronomy itself is focussed (pun unintentional) on its telescopes and other instrumentation. The rest of the universe is very far away, and needs sophisticated instruments to observe and measure it, so this structuring makes sense. Also, I already knew (most of) the science, so it was interesting to get a different perspective.

Levesque provides technical detail of the instruments, historical context of the scientists, and scientific explanation of their discoveries, all woven together in an engaging account of the last hundred++ years of astronomy.