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"… anyone with an interest in the accuracy of popular-science writing should read Alan B Whiting's Hindsight and Popular Astronomy, which offers an excellent guide to answering the question 'How far should I believe what I am told?'" --Physics World
Alan Whiting has worked as a professional astronomer for nearly two decades and has observed the sky as an amateur for much longer. Educated at the U. S. Naval Academy and the University of Cambridge, he has used a sextant to navigate at sea and professional large telescopes to search for extremely faint galaxies. He is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Birmingham (UK), where he does research into galaxies, gravity and cosmology. He lives in Seattle and can be found at the Theodor Jakobsen Observatory of the University of Washington, showing the skies to the public on Open House nights. Details of his research and explanations of various things, including life as an astronomer, may be found on his web site, www.sr.bham.ac.uk/~abw/. His book "Hindsight and Popular Astronomy" was chosen by Physics World as one of the top ten books of 2011; podcast and a review at http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/multimedia/48100.
I'm glad I read this fascinating, engrossing book. I personally have always been interested in the odd things people used to think, so I enjoyed hearing the theories that this or that astronomer championed, such as that the full moon tends to disperse clouds, or that meteors come from a mighty primeval Earth volcano.
But there's a lot more to this book than that, and Whiting sets things up by explaining certain concepts in clear, understandable terms. That's a good thing because this book is jam-packed with concepts and theories by the different astronomers Whiting reviews, along with comparisons of what we know now. During the course of the book he continues to explain scientific ideas in context. He wraps up the book with an extremely thought-provoking summary, well worth the wait.
Although the book is written clearly enough that non-scientists can follow it, I think beginning and advanced scientists and astronomers would benefit a great deal from reading it, because it sets such a strong foundation for presenting and working out scientific ideas. I could see this book being a very useful tool for classrooms, good for generating interesting discussions, and explaining concepts and approaches in science in a way that really makes sense.
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Analysis is a good habit and transferable to many disciplines. Altho not well versed in astronomy, I found Hindsight an interesting exercise, a quick read, and potentially useful to reviewing other studies and vocations. There were a disturbing number of errors in editing, but the conversational style was generally hospitable and made what could have been a dry subject easy to digest.
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