Burnham's Celestial Handbook
The Handbook comes in three volumes with about 700 pages in each. They are arranged in the alphabetical order of the constellation names. Photographs are included for many of the most popular objects in the sky. Most of the pictures were taken using the large observatory class instruments of the day. The first book also has a short primer for the novice astronomer and does an excellent job of explaining some of the basics. The last volume contains various listings of the Messier Objects, brightest stars, nearest stars, and an assortment of other index material. Unlike other books Burnahamís Handbook forgoes flash for substance. The text is plain and the pictures are black and white but it more than makes up for the simple appearance by offering a massive collection of knowledge.
Each chapter in the book is organized in a consistent manner. The first few pages of the chapter contain tables listing the double and multiple stars, the variable stars, and the assorted clusters, galaxies, and nebulae that are found in that constellation. The index contains information on the magnitude of the object as well as its name and location. The next section of the chapter is dedicated to descriptive passages about all of the major objects in the constellation. All of the bright stars, double stars, variable stars, clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are afforded space for a descriptive summary. Some of these descriptions of objects can be quite long; the Orion nebula has nearly 20 pages dedicated to it. Lastly the pictures are dispersed throughout the chapter to give reference to certain portions of the description. There are also simple star charts, field charts, diagrams of all sorts, and double star charts.
Surprisingly this book moves deeper into the realm of astronomical history than you would expect from a reference book of this type. Burnham does an excellent job of telling the stories and folklore surrounding the various nighttime objects. He explores the mythology surrounding some of the most well known features of the night sky. The handbook contains uncountable passages from the great astronomers of the past. People like Messier, Admiral Smyth, and Sir William Herschel just to name a few. It seems that almost every historic observation of even the least well-known object has a handful of quotes from the greats.
Even though the photographs in the book are mainly from (50ís Ė 70ís) modern telescopes, Burnham does a good job or relating to the average amateur. Most of the descriptions about an object refer to their appearance in smaller telescope and binoculars. Most of the photographs are simply used in reference to certain features are newer discoveries. It is said in the beginning of the book that a large telescope is not a necessity and most of the major objects reviewed can be located in a two-inch or larger telescope.
It is extremely hard for me to ever find many negative sides to a book. I believe that any book no matter how useless is probably better than no book at all. In the case of this collection it is even more difficult than usual to find any major flaw for which I would not recommend the book. I guess the only real problem with these books would be the date issue. They were written in the 60ís and last updated in 1979. Sure this may bother some people but the modern books tend to show more of what the Hubble telescope can do and find rather than what the amateur can see. I feel that because of the dated nature of this collection it is easier for the amateur to relate to the information included.
Every amateur astronomer of any caliber should consider purchasing this collection. The knowledge found within is guaranteed to make every observation you make a better one. I have a much better understanding of the night sky now and I attribute most of my new knowledge to these books. On a scale of 10 this would easily get a 10.
Submitted by Curt Irwin - firstname.lastname@example.org - Grand Rapids, Michigan