Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Norton's Star Atlas and Reference Handbook: And Reference Handbook, 20th Edition
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on May 2, 2005
The content of this atlas is superb. Having started with a 13th edition in 1959, I have learned to love the layout of the charts and in this edition they show up beautifully under red lght. The reference notes in the 20th edition are still have the same idiosyncratic style as the old edition, even though the content has been completely changed to reflect the advances in astronomy over 50 years. It is a delight to browse through the reference notes and use the atlas when observing. Now for the bad news. You shouldn't really use it, except as a coffee table exhibit. My 13th edition is still in good condition after extensive use, but after less than a year of not very robust use, the 20th has now cracked at the spine and pages have started coming out. It astounds me that the publishers can invest so much effort in producing a product with such high quality content and then proceed to use an inferior binding. Star altases have to be taken into the field and roughed up a bit and get a little damp with dew. If they can't handle this, there is no point in buying them.
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on December 2, 2003
In a previous review I expressed disappointment that a printing error seriously marred the usefulness of the latest edition of this updated classic. Well, the publisher tracked me down and sent a copy of the second printing. I am delighted to report that all the errors have been fixed and this new edition is a wonderful addition to any amateur astronomer's bookshelf (or eyepiece case). The text begins with excellent discussions of time and celestial coordinate systems (often confusing to beginner and long-timer alike). The new higher contrast moon maps are a major improvement over the washed-out maps in some previous editions. The heart of the atlas are the 16 starcharts, presented in the two-disk/six gore format familiar to lovers of the previous editions of the Norton's. These maps are more readable than ever, giving visual precidence to the stars themselves rather than labels, grid lines, etc. A thoughtful touch was to print the charts with a generous gutter margin so that stars near the celestial equator don't get trapped out of sight down in the spine of the book. As a matter of style I differ (perhaps) with another reviewer who would have liked to have seen color photographs--I guess I am nostalgic for the familiar "Norton's Green" and appreciate that editor Ridpath and designer Nix have continued the tradition in what is otherwise a major update of the classic. They are to be commended for this beautiful, useful, and authoritative book.
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on December 1, 2003
My first impression of this new edition is, "What a beautiful book" ! And indeed, a lot of improvements have been introduced, with substantial new materials.
One thing most people forgot to mention about this "old classic" is that it does not shy away from hard technical definitions, tables, and quite a few key equations, which a serious observer will eventually need. Yes, it does not contain color astrophoto plates to make the readers feel warm and fuzzy, but it does contain more key information in one place.
I wish the other more detailed atlases could consider adding information like these in Norton's.
After browsing the atlas chart pages for a few minutes, I started to worry a little bit, especially after seeing the other reviewers' comments about the Green labels/fonts on top of green Milky Way background color. Under normal lighting it is certainly readable, but one tends to think the old black labels might have worked better...
Well, worry NOT ! When viewed in the darkness of the night under red flashlights, the green labels on green milky way background actually turn out to be clearer ! This design for better field usage justifies the choice of two-color printing in this new edition.
It's the same price as the previous edition, but in hardcover and heavy duty paper. What more can one ask for ?
Definitely a must for any astronomy lover !
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on September 4, 2003
Norton's has weaknesses which other reviewers have pointed out, to be sure, but a tremendous advantage is its layout of the star charts. Unlike most other charts out there, it shows huge swaths of the sky (60 degrees north to 60 degrees south, and well over 4 hours in RA) just as you see them when you're out in the dark trying to get oriented in Deep Heaven. Other charts show little chunks of sky--Norton's shows just what you see in a great wide band from well behind the zenith to further south than most of us will ever see.
And as someone else pointed out, the reference material interleaved between the sky charts, though not exhaustive, is very useful. I use Norton's constantly along with the Sky Atlas 2000 and Burnham's Celestial Handbook (and websites to update Burnham's data), and the combination of the three is perfect for most of my own observing. I have dozens of other books on my shelves but these are the ones I rely on.
For teaching astronomy I substitute the Audubon Field Guide to the Night Sky for the Sky Atlas and Burnham's, and my students love it because Norton's helps them find their way around the sky and the Field Guide description of the constellations tells them about what they see. If I were stranded on a desert island (hope, hope) and couldn't take my beloved and well-annotated Sky Atlas 2000 and Burnham's, I'd take Norton's and the Audubon Field Guide as a very good substitute. I always recommend Norton's, the Audubon Field Guide, and binoculars to beginners--the Sky Atlas 2000, Burnham's, and a telescope can come later (or sooner, for the passionate).
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on July 19, 2000
Norton's simply keeps getting better. Earlier editions nurtured multiple generations of amateur (and not so amateur) stargazers. This latest edition is a concise, complete atlas AND reference. The Sky Atlas 2000 or Cambridge Star Atlas are also fine road maps to the skies. An even better bargain is the Bright Star Atlas 2000 (Wil Tirion did all three and is tops as a celestial cartographer), but all lack the wealth of other reference information that is contained in Norton's.
The style is definitly in the Sgt. Friday mode: "Just the facts". But there are so many of them! Page after page of succinctly written information on practical astronomy, the solar system, moon, deep-sky objects, etc.
For an evening looking at the heavens, if you don't want to carry around the local library, this one volume easily suffices.
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on May 27, 1999
Although I've only had the book two nights, it's making its way into my list of indispensable resources. I already have a better star atlas (actually two), and Burnham's, but this book plays a different role. This volume allows you to conveniently carry useful and well-designed summaries of the particularly relevant information from those volumes, plus a decent quadrant moon map for when the big brighty is swallowing up the faint fuzzies. All in one book. I'm not going to use the charts in Norton's for nailing down the Virgo galaxies, but you can still find (and learn about) tons of deep sky and stellar objects using these maps alone, and I can still whip out Star Atlas 2000 or Millennium for really tough stuff. But I'm not taking either of those camping or on a plane: they're too big and they don't have near the volume of descriptive information included in this book. If you like an occasional quick trip to a dark site, if you want a useful guide for a walk from your hotel room or a gaze out an airplane window when you travel, or you want to know something about what you're looking at without plowing through Burnham's, and you hate carrying a library, this is the work for you. That said, can the publisher/distributors please cut the price in half so more people will buy it?
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on November 21, 2003
I purchased a copy of the 20th edition of Norton's (marked second printing on the copyright page) and I was pleased to find that the first printing errors I've read about have all been corrected. Having used Norton's since I was a youngster, all I can say is, "Wow!" This new edition bears no resemblance to the very old-fashioned (but extremely useful) book I've had for some time. The new maps are clear and easy to use, the tables are large and simple to follow, and the section on Practical Astronomy is particularly well composed and presented. I wish there were some color photos of the planets taken by amatuers- especially of Mercury's recent show-but there are many other books that do it. Perhaps in a 21st edition, the publisher will add color photos. I think many readers would welcome that.
I'll need to see if the claim on the jacket is true, that the maps will be easier to use in red light because of the green ink, but overall, I'd say this is a long overdue and fantastic revision. Extremely well done!
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on November 21, 2003
I purchased a copy of the 20th edition of Norton's (marked second printing on the copyright page) and I was pleased to find that the first printing errors I've read about have all been corrected. Having used Norton's since I was a youngster, all I can say is, "Wow!" This new edition bears no resemblance to the very old-fashioned (but extremely useful) book I've had for some time. The new maps are clear and easy to use, the tables are large and simple to follow, and the section on Practical Astronomy is particularly well composed and presented. I wish there were some color photos of the planets taken by amatuers- especially of Mercury's recent show-but there are many other books that do it. Perhaps in a 21st edition, the publisher will add color photos. I think many readers would welcome that.
I'll need to see if the claim on the jacket is true, that the maps will be easier to use in red light because of the green ink, but overall, I'd say this is a long overdue and fantastic revision. Extremely well done!
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on October 18, 1999
Norton's was the first star atlas I ever used, 42 years ago, and it is still the atlas I go to for a general orientation to the sky. Over the years the maps have improved in quality, and the text has been brought up to date. It is one of the top two or three books I recommend to beginners in astronomy.
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on July 29, 2006
Most people who buy a star atlas are just getting to know the heavens, probably with a telescope and lots of enthusiasm. I would fit this description, so it is appropo that I review the two atlases I have used recently. I compared the "Collins Atlas of the Night Sky, 2005" to Nortons 20th ed, 2004.

After the first few weeks I found myself using the Collins choice more often. Norton's is the granddaddy, of course. But sometimes up-and-coming authors try to raise the bar, and this seems to have happened here. I like the color coding and the superior layout of Collins, And I especially like the section #2, where magnified maps alphabetically listed by constellation are presented. When you see something in the sky you want to identify, you usually think "it's in Orion", and want to flip to that page. Easy. You don't think, "it's at about RA 05h, dec +7 deg.

Norton's, on the other hand, has an introductory text of basic astronomy tagged on. If you don't already have an astronomy text it might add something, but most of us already have one. I liked the descriptions of stellar time, tropical vs siderial vs synodic months.

The biggest knock on Norton's, however, is the star charts aren't as easy to read, especially in the dark. I found a few errors as well. For example, the entire chart #13 has no dots to indicate where the stars are under the overlay of the Milky Way. Evidently the printer forgot to make the shading of the Milky Way transparent on that page, so all stars in that area are erased. The labels are present but there is nothing to show the star's exact location, it's visual magnitude, whethere it's a double or variable, etc. This is a huge gaffe! The binding of the Norton's text is also weak, starting to come apart after only a month. I find it hard to pick out nonstellar objects as easily.

I'll still keep my copy of Norton's, as a reference, but if I had to do it again I would buy only one.
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