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Seeing in the Dark : How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe Paperback – July 8, 2003

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Seeing in the Dark : How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe + The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report + Coming of Age in the Milky Way
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Amateur astronomers are the heroes of this latest opus from one of the country's best-known and most prolific science writers. Ferris (Coming of Age in the Milky Way) has a special place in his heart for these nonprofessionals who gaze into space out of wonderment and end up making discoveries about comets, the moon and the planets that change our understanding of the galaxy. Ferris recounts how he, as a boy growing up in working-class Florida, was first captivated by the spectacle of the night sky. He then looks at the growing field of amateur astronomy, where new technologies have allowed neophytes to see as much of the cosmos as professionals. The book introduces readers to memorable characters like Barbara Wilson, a one-time Texas housewife who turned to astronomy after her children were grown and has since helped found the George Observatory in Houston (where a number of new asteroids have been discovered) and developed a reputation as one of the most skilled amateur observers. Ferris also takes stock of what we know today about the cosmos and writes excitedly about the discoveries yet to come. With a glossary of terms and a guide for examining the sky, this book should turn many novices on to astronomy and captivate those already fascinated by the heavens.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Science writer and stargazer Ferris (The Whole Shebang) elaborates on his 1998 New Yorker essay about the renaissance of amateur astronomy, describing how advances in telescope design, electronics, and telecommunications have made it possible for amateur observers to discover new celestial objects. Improved technology and the sheer numbers of participants have also empowered amateurs to conduct round-the-clock or long-term research projects that complement the work of professional astronomers. Yet these same advances also render human eyes, hands, and sometimes even minds increasingly irrelevant to the practice of both amateur and professional astronomy. Perhaps as a counterpoint to this dismaying trend, Ferris frequently interrupts his narrative to introduce readers to individual amateur astronomers, from the well known (David Levy and Patrick Moore) to the more obscure or even surprising (Brian May of the rock group Queen). Appendixes provide useful tips and seasonal star maps (Northern Hemisphere only) for the beginning observer, facts and figures about various celestial bodies, and recommendations for further reading. Lyrical and engrossing, this book is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [See the interview with Ferris on p. 112. Ed.] Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Oron.
- Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865805
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy Ferris is the author of twelve books - among them The Science of Liberty and the bestsellers The Whole Shebang and Coming of Age in the Milky Way, which have been translated into fifteen languages and were named by The New York Times as two of the leading books published in the twentieth century, and Seeing in the Dark, named one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2002. He also edited the anthologies Best American Science Writing 2001 and the World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics. A former editor of Rolling Stone magazine, he has published over 200 articles and essays in The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Harper's, Scientific American, Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and other periodicals.

Ferris wrote and narrated three television specials - "The Creation of the Universe," which aired repeatedly in network prime time for nearly 20 years, "Life Beyond Earth" (1999), and "Seeing in the Dark" (2007). He produced the Voyager phonograph record, an artifact of human civilization containing music and sounds of Earth launched aboard the twin Voyager interstellar spacecraft, which are now exiting the outer reaches of the solar system. He was among the journalists selected as candidates to fly aboard the Space Shuttle in 1986, and has served on various NASA commissions studying the long-term goals of space exploration and the potential hazards posed by near-Earth asteroids.

Called "the best popular science writer in the English language" by The Christian Science Monitor and "the best science writer of his generation" by The Washington Post, Ferris has received the American Institute of Physics prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His works have been nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Ferris has taught in five disciplines - astronomy, English, history, journalism, and philosophy - at four universities, and is now emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Christian Wheeler on August 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As an amateur astronomer myself, I was very pleased to find this wonderful tribute to those whose diligent, patient efforts have expanded our knowledge of the night skies. Ferris, an amateur astronomer himself, provides a well-written and engaging account (with appropriate doses of historical context, anecdotes and humor) of the quirky, sometimes obsessive, but always dedicated individuals who do the "dirty work" that professionals often lack the time--and access to overbooked telescopes and equipment--to perform: monitoring Martian storms, tracking comets, observing the occasional nova, and much, much more. Their constant vigilence may be our first line of defense against a rogue comet or asteroid, and thanks to improved equipment, their range is greater than ever. (Unfortunately, light pollution sometimes cancels out any gains in technology). Amateur astronomers toil mostly in obscurity and are mostly unheralded outside the field (though the professionals largely appreciate them), which is unfortunate--but Ferris does a wonderful job of giving them their due, revealing the quality work that they perform. Very highly recommended to fans of astronomy, both amateur and professional. One last thought--William Herschel was a practicing amateur when he discovered Uranus.
For more Tim Ferris, see "The Sky's Mind," "Coming of Age in the Milky Way," "The Red Limit," and the excellent "The Whole Shebang."
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Everybody has done it: looking up at the bright night sky produces mixed feelings of awe at the beauty, and impenetrable mysteries, and the insignificance of our local tiny problems, and other ineffable feelings besides. Serious stargazers just do it better than most. In _Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril_ (Simon & Schuster), Timothy Ferris tells about some of the ones that do it best. A lifelong stargazer, Ferris has his own observatory in the California wine country (he writes about how it was planned and built). He is not a professional astronomer. He is a journalist, one who has produced fine books about science before, but this one is close to his heart, and his enthusiasm is easily apparent and beautifully described.
As an amateur himself, Ferris is able to describe the importance of amateur astronomy, and the surprising ways in which the big telescopes on mountaintops used by the professionals, and the Hubble, have not put amateurs out of business. He shows many ways that amateurs are useful, doing explorations and finding objects that throw more light on explaining such serious theories as the Big Bang. One amateur explains, "In how many areas of science can you still make an important discovery without a ton of funding?" There's some prestige in making such discoveries, but one supernova hunter spoke for thousands when he said, "I can't really tell you why I do it." There is a good deal of basic astronomy here, and someone interested in starting in the field will get good advice on doing so. However, this is only partially an astronomy textbook. Even better is that Ferris has given interviews and small biographies of amateur astronomers to give us an idea about how their passion affects them.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Rulon D. Foster on January 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Timothy Ferris has an unusual gift for explaining complex subjects in a highly readable, even felicitous, style. The first book I read of his, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, was a thoroughly entertaining history of how we gradually came to understand the impossibly vast scale of the universe. It evoked awe of our strange and wonderful cosmos while staying refreshingly free of the antireligious crankiness and oddly mystical naturalism of Carl Sagan. Seeing in the Dark focuses on areas of astronomy that any of us could plausibly make contributions in - planets, asteroids, comets, the sun, the moon, even SETI. It is fascinating to learn how amateurs continue to make important discoveries and, indeed, how the professionals still depend on them to help expand our understanding of the solar system and beyond.
But what I gained most from reading this book was the realization that I don't really have to own an expensive telescope and live in the open desert to enjoy stargazing. I especially appreciated such personal stories as Ferris viewing a lunar occultation of Saturn with a small telescope from his deck in San Francisco. He had to maneuver the tripod into a far corner, wait until the planet drifted into view between his house and a tree, then cope with a bright streetlight by pressing his eye tight against the eyepiece - but it was indisputably worth the effort. This book inspired me to pull my cheap little 2.4 inch refractor out of the garage where it had languished for fifteen years and look again at Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons. It has re-awakened my youthful fascination with outer space and I am greatly appreciative.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Khemprof TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanretary Peril written by Timothy Ferris is a wonderfully well-written personal account about astronomy. Stargazing in this book is more of the backyard amateur variety, however no less serious than the professionals. Interest has been on the increase due mainly to the internet.
With internet communication amateurs can set their telescopes up and the computer can control the telescopes with computers making amateur astronomy more serious. The author has an easy going style of narrative and you can tell he loves telling a story about something he really loves.
This is an infectous narrative bringing the reader into the subject as a participant; making the glories of the stars a part of your lives. Anyone can get started in backyard astronomy by just going outside with a star chart on a dark night and looking up. I remember many a warm Summer night growing up spending hours at night looking up and wondering about the starlingt and the millions of years that it took to get here. This book has a rekindling power to it and brings back those evenings for me.
There are starcharts in the back of the book along with information about the closest stars and planetary information about the number of moons. What I found interesting about this book is a reading list which gives the reader something to further his/her knowledge, along with this there is a glossary of terms used throughout the book making for and interesting read.
If you like popular science with a mentor guiding you along as he relates his past and enthusiasm this is your book, you won't be disappointed.
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