Astronomy Book Recommendations

Updated May 17, 2009

The following titles are books I've collected over the years. Many of them were given to me, and have become some of my most treasured gifts. I consider all of them to be useful additions to any astronomer's personal library. They are listed in alphabetical order by author.

For your convenience, I've provided links to amazon.com. (Although I am an amazon.com associate, and receive points for every time you click on a title below to purchase it, I have listed below only those titles I personally enjoy and can recommend. Amazon.com sells many other astronomy books that I have not listed below.)


 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide: With Complete Maps, Charts and Tips to Guide You to Enjoying the Most Famous List of Deep-Sky Objects
by Harvard (H. C.) Pennington

This is an extremely helpful book. I rate it among the very best for helping in your Messier Object search. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print. Amazon.com currently shows it as "Temporarily Out of  Stock," but when I ordered it, they were unable to deliver after eight weeks.

Fortunately, Sky & Telescope now seems to offer it as a free PDF, though I've had trouble accessing the archive.

If you want the book, try Googling it. Several places still seem to have copies.

 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Deep Sky Companions: The Messier Objects
by Stephen James O'Meara

O'Meara is a talented artist/illustrator who has lovingly reproduced each of the Messier Objects here. What makes this book so useful is that rather than photographs, you see what the human eye sees – what O'Meara saw – looking through a typical amateur scope. This book is very useful for getting a true idea of what you will see through your own scope.

Buy it now!

Nightwatch : A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe
by Terence Dickinson, Timothy Ferris, Victor Costanzo (Illustrator)

This was my very first astronomy book, and is still the general field guide/reference I use most often. An absolute must-have for astronomers of any ability. Beautifully written with clear, legible charts, this is a book that will accompany you on every star party.

Buy it now!

 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Soul of the Night : An Astronomical Pilgrimmage
by Chet Raymo

If you have a poet in your soul, this is a great book for you. Raymo does a wonderful job of exploring the wonder, awe and beauty of astronomy. This is not so much an astronomy book as a piece of incredible literature. Some of my serious astronomer friends think the book is a bit too "gee-whiz," and the prose a bit too "purple," but I think they just need some more right-brain exercise! A great gift for non-astronomers with open minds.

Buy it now!

Sky Atlas 2000, 2nd edition
by Wil Tirion

Wow! This is a fantastic astronomical atlases for the serious amateur. Personally, I feel like Galileo myself when I open the stippled binding, and turn the heavy stock pages.... A useful reference, in the field or out. A must-have for any intermediate or advanced sky-watcher. If you're ready for the next step up from guides like Nightwatch, this is the tome. Includes nice, clear laminate reference guides.

To make this book even more useful, see my software page for downloadable page labels.

Highly Recommended

  The Backyard Astronomer's Guide
by Terence Dickinson (Preface), Alan Dyer (Preface)

This book is a natural follow-up to "Nightwatch," above. It's useful, thorough, and easy to understand. I do not consider it a field-guide type book that you will take on your observing sessions, but it is useful to have in your collection.

Buy it now!

  Advanced Skywatching
by Robert Burnham, Alan Dyer, Robert A. Garfinkle, Martin George, Jeff Kanipe, David H. Levy

This Nature Company Guide/Time Life Book is a great read, mainly because it is presented almost as a series of magazine articles. I spent a long August afternoon at The Local Group's annual White Mountain Star Party curled up in a hammoc and reading this book. It is definitely not a field guide, and frankly, I wouldn't consider it a true reference work, but if you just want a broad understanding of the heavens presented in a clear, readable format with lots of good pictures, this is the book for you.

Buy it now!

  No Picture Available. The Universe from Your Backyard
by David J. Eicher

This is a good general introduction to deep sky objects. What I like about it is that it doesn't focus solely on the Messier Objects, but includes many of the NGC objects as well. It is a good text for the advanced beginner or intermediate amateur.

Buy it now!

 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Star Ware : The Amateur Astronomer's Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Buying, and Using Telescopes and Accessories
by Philip S. Harrington

If you have not yet purchased a scope, if you already have a scope and are thinking about adding to your collection, or you are thinking about buying eyepieces or any other accessories (in other words, if you are an amateur astronomer who breathes!), this book is invaluable. I have lent my copy to countless people, and when they return it, they invariably tell me they purchased a copy for themselves. A must-have.

Buy it now!

  A Walk Through the Heavens
by Milton D. Heifetz an Wil Tirion

Beginning astronomers who have yet to even learn their constellations will find this book helpful. What's nice about it is that it is a slim, compact volume that introduces the naked-eye night sky. It illustrates and explains the constellations in such a way that should help any astronomer find his or her way around the stars.

Buy it now!

  Blind Watchers of the Sky
by Rocky Kolb

Of all the books on my list, this is the only history of astronomy. It presents not a dry recounting of dates, people and events, but a living history of the changing perspectives that have guided mankind's exploration of the universe. Although a very pleasant read, it may be a bit heavy going for beginners lookiing for a simpler outlook. (For them, I would recommend "Soul of the Night" above.)

Buy it now!

  365 Starry Nights : An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year
by Chet Raymo

This book is written for beginners, but I was given it as a gift after I'd been doing astronomy for several years. I still enjoyed it. It has the background stories for all the constellations, and useful hints for star-hopping that go beyond the familiar "follow the arc to Arcturus" advice.

Buy it now!


HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Cambridge Star Atlas
by Wil Tirion

Many experienced amateurs consider this to be THE star atlas to own for beginning to intermediate star gazers. It is a simplified version of the Sky Atlas 2000. Though useful, it may scare away very new beginners with its massive number of stars catalogued and somewhat intimidating notation.

Buy it now!

  The Star Guide
by Robin Kerrod

This book is another that I would consider more of a desk reference than a field book. It presents a fairly general overview of the night sky, and in fact includes a planisphere. I'd rate it a useful book for the very serious beginner, but I wouldn't put it on my must-have list.

Buy it now!

  The Planets
by David McNab and James Younger

The Planets bears the distinction of being the only book on this list that could double as a "coffee table book." Big in format and beautifully illustrated, this work tells you everything you could possibly want to know about our nearest celestial neighbors. Neither a field reference nor a desk reference, this book is a pleasure simply to read and study.

Buy it now!

  Burnham's Celestial Handbook
by Robert Burnham, Jr.

This book seems to be one of the most widely owned reference titles for astronomers, and indeed, it seems to have everything. However, I find it dry and textbook-like in its approach and presentation. Although useful to have as a sort of encyclopedic reference, the horrible typeface of my edition and data-intensive charts make this one of my least-used astronomy books.

Buy it now!

Using the Meade ETX
by Mike Weasner

I don't even have an ETX, and I found this book interesting! It has a lot of information that would be useful to any small scope owner, although really, it is geared to owners of this extremely possible GOTO scope. A lot of people get ETXs for gifts, and I've seen so many of them at star parties, frustrated in figuring out the details of setting up this slightly technical scope. This book is the antidote.

Of course, I'm even more of a fan because Mike Weasner mentions my software favorably!


Sadly, Brent Watson's titles are not carried by Amazon.com, but I've found them extremely useful. I consider all the following books to be HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

As of April 3, 2003, Sky Spot Publishing has a new Web site where you can buy them directly: http://www.sky-spot.com/

Set of Messier Objects for the Telrad
by Brent Watson

Next to my scope and finder, these two books are the most-used items in my astronomy arsenal! It is difficult to imagine getting through a deep-sky observing session without them. They literally reduced my time spent finding difficult objects by as much as 90 percent. I cannot recommend them too highly. If you have a Telrad, and you don't have these books, you are wasting time every time you observe.

Bright Sky Objects for the Telrad
by Brent Watson

This set of charts for bright objects is great for those nights when conditions aren't optimal, when you have a lower-powered scope, or when you want to induce enthusiasm in beginners with objects they can easily find.

Overlooked Objects for Telrad
by Brent Watson

As you progress in your Messier search and begin looking for that next set of interesting deep-sky objects, this book will provide you with dozens of worthwhile targets. Although many of the objects in this book benefit most from large aperatures (10" or greater), there are still many objects you can see in smaller scopes. Most unusual, this book points you to an object that can't be seen at all: X-1, the black hole in Cygnus. This is the companion book to my Overlooked Object Log (OOLog). Click here for OOLog.

Finder Charts of Selet Double Stars
by Brent Watson

Finally, a book for double-star fanatics! Those of you who like a respite from the deep-sky stuff, especially those who own refractors, will want to check this book out..


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