Podaster: Shane and Chris

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Title: Astronomy Books

Organization:  Actual Astronomy

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Description: The Actual Astronomy Podcast presents Astronomy Books.  In this episode we discuss some of the best astronomy books with City Lights Bookstore owner Chris Wilcox. From poetry to the Milky Way we cover our favourite books on the astronomical table.

Bio: Shane and Chris are amateur astronomers who enjoy teaching astronomy classes and performing outreach where they help the eyes of the public to telescope eyepieces.

Peter Jedicke was National President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada from 2004 to 2006 and is now a Fellow of the RASC.
He is also Honorary President of the RASC London Centre.

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Astronomy Books with Chris Wilcox on Episode 399 of the Actual Astronomy podcast. I’m Chris and joining me is Shane. We are amateur astronomers who love looking up at the night sky and this podcast is for everyone who enjoys going out under the stars.

  • We are going to do a give away at the end for a Huge Planisphere

For almost 3 decades Chris Wilcvox has been a bookseller and in 2021 he ventured into the world of amateur astronomy and brought his vocation along for the ride. Chris says “When I peer into outer space, this is what I like to think about: generations of humanity looking out, reckoning our place in the universe.”

Welcome to the show Chris!

Please tell us about your book store? Name and location, we don’t mind promoting it!

Can people visit in store, online or both?
I see you sometimes have a few telescopes for sale too?

So let’s talk a bit about your astronomy 1st.

How did you first get interested in astronomy?

What equipment do you own and what was your progress towards that equipment?

What sort of objects do you like to observe?

I recall you wrote to us about an experience going up into the mountains to observe at an astronomy centre, can you tell us about that?

Can you tell us about the origins of your love for books?

What were some of the early books which influenced you?

Did you have a bookstore mentor?


You mentioned that you enjoy memoirs, biographies, and histories of astronomers and the observatories, what are some of the titles that you’ve enjoyed and could recommend to our listeners?

  • Arthur Koestler: The Sleepwalkers, in which Western civ gets stuck in geocentricity for 1500 years
  • Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Some dated conventions, but a fascinating sociological study of avant-garde science. This classic gave us the now-overused term “paradigm shift.”
  • Michael Hoskin: The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction
  • Dava Sobel: The Planets
  • Leslie C. Peltier Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer
  • Ronald Florence: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope
  • Robert Zimmerman: The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It
  • Emily Levesque: The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers. A young professor’s assemblage of adventures — her own, plus accounts gleaned from colleagues — from the days when astronomers would travel to the big, remote observatories to capture their data.

What are some popular books on planetary science, astrophysics, and cosmology that are high up on your list of must reads?

  • Mike Brown: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
  • Adam Frank: The Little Book of Aliens
  • Philip Plait: Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe
  • Becky Smethurst: A Brief History of Black Holes
  • Carlo Rovelli: White Holes
  • Moiya McTier: The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy

I think you even mentioned some poems?
(is there a particular short passage that might be suitable to read?)

  • Benjamin Labatut: When We Cease to Understand the World and The MANIAC
  • Kim Stanley Robinson: Galileo’s Dream
  • Tracy K. Smith Life on Mars: Poems
    What makes a really good observing reference?

Some of our most skilled practitioners in this hybrid form include:

  • Leslie C. Peltier, in his classic Guideposts to the Stars
  • Walter “Scotty” Houston (his bio reminds us that he was an editor and English teacher by profession)
  • Stephen James O’Meara, e.g., his Messier Objects 2nd ed.
  • Sue French, in her inimitable continuation of Houston & O’Meara’s Deep Sky Wonders
  • Howard Banich (his recent S&T article on M33 was his 33rd column for the magazine, so I hope he eventually pulls his writings and brilliant sketches into a bound collection)

What are some other useful books?

  • Burnham’s Celestial Handbook in three volumes
  • Nightwatch (Dickinson, et al.)
  • Harrington: Touring the Universe through Binoculars
  • Hill: A Portfolio of Lunar Drawings

What do you keep handy at your desk?

  • Pasachoff: Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets
  • Mitton: A Concise Dictionary of Astronomy
  • Edgar: RASC Observer’s Handbook (current U.S. ed.)
  • Beckett: RASC 2024 Observer’s Calendar

What are some good books to have in the field?
Is there anything special that can put them to the top of the must own list?

  • Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas, Field Edition* (Stoyan & Schurig)
  • Sky Atlas 2000.0: Deluxe Edition (Tirion & Sinnott)
  • Rukl: Atlas of the Moon
  • Turn Left at Orion (Consolmagno & Davis)
  • The Messier Observer’s Planisphere* from Celestial Teapot >46-cm diameter

Might need to stop here

What are a few indispensable texts from your collection:

  • Swanson: NexStar User’s Guide II
  • Menard: New Perspectives on Newtonian Collimation
  • Brown: All about Telescopes
  • Telescopes, Eyepieces, and Astrographs: Design, Analysis, and Performance of Modern Astronomical Optics (Smith et al.)
  • Astronomical Sketching (Handy et al.)

Diversions & Pithy Inspirations
What books do you dip into when you need a jot between sessions under the stars.

  • Freistetter: The Story of the Universe in 100 Stars
  • Any of those splashy coffee table books loaded with astrophotography. While they may not represent visual astronomy’s faint, mostly monochrome experience, they are stunning. And, as the imagers tell us, those long integrations and enhanced colors are scientifically useful.
  • Cathay LeBlanc & David Chapman: Mi’Kmaw Moons: Through the Seasons. A picture book about Mi’Kmaq cosmology combines rich information and great storytelling with Loretta Gould’s gorgeous illustrations.
  • Many astronomy-related books for kids are too delightful to let the youngsters have all the fun. Plucking a few stars from this constellation:
  • Gaiter: The Mysteries of the Universe A lavish, outward sweeping reference
  • McCulley: Caroline’s Comets A sweet, pictorial biography of C. Hershell
  • Becker: You Are Light Spectra are for babies!
  • 100 Poems: Outer Space, edited by Midge Goldberg From the Cambridge series

Are there any sentimental books in your library:

  • Norton’s Star Atlas (Epoch 1950) The stars have processed into a new epoch since these gate-fold pages were bound in boards of blue cloth. So it’s dated, and those boards are a bit warped, but I treasure this volume because it originally belonged to Col. Carl Hill, a kindly next-door elder when I was a kid. He was like a surrogate grandfather and the astronomy mentor who might’ve been had I shown interest at the time. He and his wife sold my folks the land where I grew up (and where I live). He had a backyard pier and enlisted my dad, an amateur machinist, to help him fabricate a wedge. There’s a sort of poignant regret I feel when holding this book.
  • Planisphere give away

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