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Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0844615271
ISBN-10: 0844615277
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Hardcover, December, 1990
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Peter Smith Pub Inc (December 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0844615277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0844615271
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,932,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is filled with ancient and classical literary references and catalog designations of the stars. At the price, it's an outstanding bargain. Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, and European lore are all there. I think it's a"must have" for anyone interested in historical astronomy.
The book loses 1 star because the original text was written in 1895: before the constellation names and boundaries were fixed by the International Astronomical Union in 1930. So a beginner could get confused by references to a star being in one constellation whereas the IAU put the star in another.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Andis Kaulins on March 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Richard Hinckley Allen's nearly 600-page book Star Names, as written on the copyright page, is "an unabridged and corrected republication of the work first published by G.E. Stechert in 1899, under the former title: Star-Names and Their Meanings."

This is its great advantage for any student or researcher of the history of astronomy, because it is untainted by the oversimplification which resulted from the artificial fixing of the number, names and boundaries of the constellations by the International Astronomical Union. [...]

The scope of the book is enormous, covering a breadth of material found, e.g., nowhere on the internet, and that today is saying something.

Of great value are the extensive (but not perfect) nearly 75 pages of indexes (General Index, Arabic Index, Arabic Alphabet, Greek Index, and the Index to Author and Authorities).

The history of astronomy goes hand in hand with the manner in which the ancients organized the stellar heavens above them. We have dozens of books on the history of astronomy in our private library. This book is the best - by far - on the history of the names of the stars, and we use it regularly in our own work on the history of astronomy.

There are no sky maps in this book, it is all text, so that to fully appreciate what one is reading, it is absolutely essential to have 1) the movable precessional historical planispheres of Milton D. Heifetz, 2) a software astronomy program such as Starry Night Pro capable of being set back in historical time plus having an apparently accurate Delta-T value, which e.g. RedShift does not (we unknowingly bought but do not use RedShift for this reason), and (3) a detailed modern atlas of the stars, e.g. such as one by Patrick Moore. All of these can be found at Amazon. To find Heifetz, search "Heifetz Planispheres" at Amazon. To find Starry Night Pro, search just that. To find a good star atlas by Moore search "patrick moore atlas stars".
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By absent_minded_prof on February 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is an unusual, carefully crafted look at an unfortunately little-known subject. Richard Hinkley Allen shares with us his research into the ancient names carried by our stars... He delves into the etymologies of dozens, or more likely hundreds of stars, and also of constellations. The book starts out with two brief sections discussing features of the Zodiac as a whole, then goes into great detail about each constellation in the sky, zodiacal or otherwise. He draws upon mythology and folklore from the Chinese, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Old Norse, Hebrews, Celts, many Native American peoples, Assyrians, etc... There are a few problems with nineteenth century terminology for the modern reader, such as calling Mesopotamian peoples "Euphratean," and frequently the spellings Allen uses are no longer accepted, but, well, I for one don't care about that. This just a gem of a book, that's all there is to it.
If you're like me, you may find yourself startled at how many of the stars carry Arabic names, which Europe adapted in the later Middle Ages. Somehow, that makes me wonder if that obscure fact could somehow help bring about some peace and mutual understanding between the West and the Islamic world... Anyway, I wanted to also mention that if you happen to get really into this stuff, and want to do further research, you could do a lot worse than go online and try to contact a reference librarian at any good divinity school library. That sounds funny, given that this book is about astronomy, and considering the traditional tensions between astronomy and religion, but if you can get access to such a library, you'll be able to leaf through mouldering old dictionaries of many ancient tongues. Especially if the school has offerings in comparative religion. Just a thought. Keep looking up!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jesse L. Emspak on August 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
While the text is a bit dated-- Allen wrote in the late 1880s-- it is a fantastic book for people interested in the history of the names of the stars. It also includes thousands of entries for stars that are no longer so well-known by name. (How many people can name the "pointers" in the Big Dipper, for example?)

The only downside is that anyone who reads it had better have at least a basic grasp of the classical Greek alphabet. To be fair, when Allen wrote this book most college-educated people had exactly that, and Latin besides. So sometimes he seems to assume that everyone can read Greek and leaves it at that (an edition with a set of transliterations would be most helpful).

But after some struggle with learning the Greek alphabet (I couldn't really sight-read it), I found this to be a hugely rewarding book.

I'd tell people to just start with the constellations they know, as the book is organized by constellation. For anyone who isn't already an astronomy buff, the stars that have been moved from one constellation to another (as a result of the International Astronomical Union finally "fixing" the boundaries in 1930) to be less of a problem than it might be--most stars that had that happen are pretty faint to begin with. And anyone familiar enough to even know that the boundaries have changed will have no trouble locating such stars in the sky by their coordinates and Flamsteed numbers.

Another thing: Allen's scholarship, while very good, also suffers a bit from 100 years worth of archeological and ethnographic data that has been gathered since. But I only caught the discrepancies in areas I had happened to read about before--and even then it took a bit of digging to see why something didn't "feel" right.
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