If you love reading about the origins of great ideas and inventions, Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope is a truly satisfying and entertaining account of the history of the telescope. From the first gleanings of a great concept for peeking at the stars courtesy of early astronomers like Tycho Brahe to the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope, this simple object has come a long way, baby.
But this is not just a book about how the telescope came to be over the course of some 400 years. It is also a book that chronicles the great astronomers and their quest to see further into the cosmos, driven by a desire to understand the mysteries of the stars. Dr. Fred Watson, Astronomer-In-Charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory and a regular writer for Sky & Space Magazine, offers up an intriguing story of the people and the objects that have made it possible to glimpse into our past, and future. The intense competition between astronomers is fully documented as they literally race to create the biggest and the best telescopes and apertures, and it is clear that this passion has resulted in four centuries of truly remarkable developments in space discoveries and exploration.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the telescope, the Dutch seem to have a hold on history, with an optician named Hans Lipperhey as the most likely suspect. Contributions by Brahe, Galileo, Hale, Newton and other notable men of science, including musician-turned-astronomer William Herschel, described by many modern astronomers as “the greatest telescope maker of all-time,” advanced and improved the telescope’s abilities, and despite technical problems that threatened to stop the progress, including an obsession over aperture size (size does matter, say these scientists!) that continues to modern day, it is clear from this book that the sky is truly the limit when it comes to what the telescopes of tomorrow will do, thanks to the ingenuity and inventiveness of those who came before us.
The book is written in a highly accessible style, with black and white drawings and photos that compliment the text, and although the history of the telescope may sound like a dry and technical subject, Watson succeeds at keeping the narrative entertaining and often funny and touching as he describes the amazing passion and drive to go “bigger and better” that has led us to where we are today – with awesome and spectacular telescopes being perfected right now by astronomers determined to see even further into our collective cosmic destiny.
Every kid owns a telescope, and every kid gets that special thrill each time he or she peers at the moon or Mars up close and personal. That same thrill has driven the development of the telescope, as humans seek a closer relationship with the universe they live in – a universe where clearly bigger can be better, but where the biggest and the best often start out with something small…like an idea.