The Vic­to­rian Ama­teur As­tronomer

Al­lan Chap­man Gracewing Pub­lish­ing £40 HB

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS -

This new edi­tion of The Vic­to­rian Ama­teur As­tronomer is a long-awaited up­date to Al­lan Chap­man’s in­valu­able 1998 book fo­cus­ing on the as­tronomers who ad­vanced the science via their own self-funded re­sources. As the author makes clear, the purpose of the book is to “ex­am­ine the con­tri­bu­tions made to astron­omy by those per­sons who were not paid pro­fes­sion­ally to do so.”

Vic­to­rian Bri­tain was home to many ama­teur as­tronomers who were largely self-taught and who com­bined their pur­suit of astron­omy with the obli­ga­tions of hav­ing to earn their liv­ing by other means. It is on these peo­ple that the book fo­cuses. As a re­sult, The Vic­to­rian Ama­teur As­tronomer is pri­mar­ily a book about as­tronomers rather than astron­omy it­self and is a well-writ­ten, well-re­searched and highly read­able ex­plo­ration of their achievemen­ts.

A ma­jor fea­ture is the ex­ten­sive ‘Notes and Ref­er­ences’ section (span­ning over 100 pages), which con­tains many en­tries that may well in­spire fur­ther read­ing. A com­pre­hen­sive and thor­ough in­dex rounds off the book.

Although a small num­ber of the il­lus­tra­tions are of a dis­ap­point­ing qual­ity (there must have been bet­ter ex­am­ples avail­able), the sheer range and di­ver­sity of im­ages – many of which could rea­son­ably be de­scribed as rare – more than com­pen­sates.

The Vic­to­rian Ama­teur As­tronomer is a must-read for any­one in­ter­ested in the role of the en­thu­si­as­tic dab­bler in astron­omy dur­ing the 19th cen­tury.

BRIAN JONES has writ­ten 17 books on astron­omy and space for children and adults

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