Founded in 1845, Scientific American
is the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S. Its much-loved column, "The Amateur Scientist," originated some 70 years ago, and now, in the first of a planned series of subject-oriented volumes, its riches are harvested in book form. Astronomy was the first topic the column's contributors focused on, and editor Carlson begins with a selection of how-to articles about building telescopes, most of which were written in the 1950s. In contrast, a set of articles about the Sun leaps forward into the 1990s, and as the collection continues with columns about observing the Moon, planets, comets, and stars, it seems to indicate that these two decades were pivotal ones for amateur sky gazers. Carlson provides fascinating assessments of both how much and how little was known 50 years ago, and he charts the evolution of theories and the rise and resolution of controversies, thus offering invaluable insights into the history of scientific thought and methodology. Technically precise yet always clear, these popular science columns remain vital and exciting. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
* An anthology of interest to the backyard astronomer, from America's leading science magazine. ""The Amateur Scientist,"" as Carlson points out in his brief introduction, has run in Scientific American for over 70 years. From the Start, it has been written for the amateur interested in making observations of various celestial phenomena, often with homemade equipment. The collection of articles from those years is updated to reflect the changes both in technology and in society at large (many supply houses and research sources, for example are now most easily found online). Most of the pieces assume considerable dedication to the task at hand: grinding a telescope mirror (a frequent first project for young scientists), while comparatively inexpensive, involves a substantial investment of time to achieve a precision component. Technical and mathematical sophistication is a given here; readers uncomfortable with equations will soon find themselves at sea. But for those who want to do hands-on science, this is a gold mine: it offers several variations on the basic reflecting telescope, as well as tips on taking astronomical photos and designs for an ocular spectroscope. For those who want to explore beyond the visual spectrum, it gives plans for two homemade radio telescopes. The study of artificial satellites (unheard of in the early days of the column) occupies two chapters. Other projects include two novel sundials (one based on a globe of the earth), instruments to stimulate planetary orbits and pointers on observing specific objects (such as the moon or Jupiter). Where relevant (for example, in regard to solar observations) there are ample safety tip. The writing is for the most part clear, although technical terms are necessarily plentiful.
Certainly not for everyone, but for its intended audience this is an indispensable book.
--Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2000