THE STARS NIGHT BY NIGHT FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
In 1914 Joseph Henry Elgie, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, published The Stars Night by Night. Non-technical and affordable, it was one of the first guides that aimed to introduce the study of astronomy to an audience outside of the scientific community.
Combining Elgie’s detailed observations of the night’s sky of his native Yorkshire with poetic rhapsodies to the beauty of the heavens, it inspired a generation of laymen and amateur enthusiasts to embrace astronomy.
One disciple of Elgie was the young Brian Jones. The Stars Night by Night inspired in Brian not only a lifelong love of astronomy, but a passion for educating others on the subject.
Since co-founding the Bradford Astronomical Society in 1975, Brian has written nearly twenty books on the subject, as well as extensively appearing on TV and radio as an astronomical correspondent.
In all these roles he has tried to fulfil the mission statement laid out by Elgie in the preface to his seminal text: ‘to teach a general acquaintance with the face of the sky’ to those readers without the ‘opportunity… to enter deeply into the study of that science’.
These days it can be a little difficult, however, for the budding astronomer to get started in their hobby. Light pollution has put a clear view of the night’s sky out of reach for many people. The ’face of the sky’, with which Elgie sought to acquaint his readers, is, if anything, in the modern day more unfamiliar than ever. As Brian says, it is for this reason that Elgie’s writing is so enduringly important:
‘As much as The Stars Night by Night is a practical astronomy handbook, it is also a love letter to astronomy itself. Elgie’s writing is so passionate, so heartfelt and poetic that it is the best advert for picking up the hobby that I know. To get to grips with all the nitty gritty, first you have to have the passion for it. This is what Elgie teaches you: the passion. The brilliant thing is that then he teaches you all the rest as well!’
It is for this reason that Brian’s has adapted, expanded and revised Elgie’s text for the twenty-first century. With liberal quotation from Elgie’s rhapsodic original, he hopes to replicate for a whole new generation of stargazers the impact that The Stars Night by Night had upon him.
‘I wanted to pay tribute to Elgie,’ Brian says, ‘that’s why the design of the book itself is so closely modelled on the original edition – right down to the cover art. And I wanted to recapture that sense of excitement, of wonder, that his writing gave me when I was just starting out. And really how better to do both than to let Elgie speak for himself? In his own words: “with the stars for company… I sometimes think I should not be lonely in the desert if Sahara nor on an island-rock in mid-Pacific… How can such true companions ever pall?” I can’t think of a better advert for the pleasures of astronomy than that.’
Like Elgie’s original, Brian Jones’ The Stars Night by Night is a comprehensive introduction and invaluable reference for all aspiring students of the stairs. It is written in simple, jargon-free English, and includes a comprehensive glossary, as well as introductions to the key concepts and influential figures of astronomy. With over one hundred diagrams, it provides a day-by-day breakdown of the notable stars and constellations to be spotted over the course of an entire year, covering both northern and southern hemispheres. And because it focuses solely on those celestial bodies which remain constant year-on-year, it will remain an invaluable companion for years to come.
And to complement it, the publisher, Candy Jar Books, is bundling The Stars Night by Night together with another of its astronomy-related books for a reduced bundle price. Former BBC Sky at Night magazine’s book of the month New Stars for Old, by Marc Read, is a collection of short stories focusing on the influential astronomers of history, lightly fictionalising their lives in order to bring the stories of their discoveries to life. The two-book bundle will be available for £17.
Editorial Co-ordinator for Candy Jar Books Will Rees says: ‘It was very rewarding to be involved in the production of such an affectionate tribute to, and continuation of, Elgie’s work. We thought that New Stars for Old would be the perfect companion piece. Together, we think the two titles capture all that is fun and interesting about astronomy, whilst also firmly grounding its reader in the science of the discipline.’
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