The Victorian Amateur Astronomer
Allan Chapman Gracewing Publishing £40 HB
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