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Bigger but not quite better
on April 1, 2010
As an amateur astronomer with 4 on-and-off decades of dark sky observing, i can appreciate a cloudy-night reference like the rest of you. I have all three of the Deep-Sky Companions series, and have read through them, though for reference i use other sources: Luginbuhl and Skiff's Observing Handbook and Catalog if you can find it, and Burnham's 3 volume Celestial Handbook is still full of information, if somewhat dated now. I bought, one after another, the Deep Sky Companion series because i respect the observational skills, draughting ability and elegant writing style of Mr. O'Meara, as i had seen in Sky and Telescope magazine.
Each book in the series has its strengths; the first Messier volume surpassing the previous comparable standard (Mallas & Kreimer's Messier Album) with the only exception of a lack of complete original catalog facsimiles. In each, the combination of visual descriptions and bxw sketches achieved with the author's voluntary self-restraint using a small (albeit excellent) telescope as seen by a trained observer (with excellent visual acuity, from an excellent observing site) will be useful for comparison by readers with their own specific equipment and viewing considerations.The author's choice of objects seems on the whole balanced, and with few exceptions, explained both in the introduction as a process and in an appendix as a comparative source study. Perhaps understandably, some of the extra objects in the previous books have been folded into this volume. All of the three books in the series have a historical biographic appendix of high quality (written by others) which put these generally bright objects in context.
Besides the odd typo, I am critical of some editorial decisions that were made with this book. First noted, it includes no overall starcharts or index of objects inside the covers as in the previous two volumes in the Deep-Sky Companions series (Caldwell does this in the most thorough manner of the three). Hidden Treasures has simply left blank pages. In addition there are several blank pages at the end of the book, ostensibly for the readers' observing notes (tho' any serious observer will write his/her observations in a log). Several photographs (eg: HT 46, 62) were either reproduced or chosen poorly. The finder starcharts are sparce ( for reasons explained in a generally apologetic preface) They use an "x marks the spot" for the Hidden treasures which are much less informationally useful than the standard deep-sky object-specific symbols used by both previous books. Here, despite different publishers, continuation of a good tradition would have been in order. The finder charts and some photos also use archaic and hard-to-read fonts for star mag.'s and compass roses. They are copyrighted by the author but an editor should take responsibility for a writer's misjudgement. This is not intended as a field handbook, so the general thickness of it is not practically relevant, but perhaps indicates a less elegant use of language in this volume, as contrasted to the previous two. It would have been nice if the Bedford Catalog / Willmann Bell) had been also cited as a bibliographic reference, since that 1840 source was quoted, and the conversational style of both are arguably comparable. My title page was printed wrinkled, but i don't care.
The writing in this book is of generally high quality, as in the previous two. However, in this one, Mr.OMeara has taken a whimsical metaphor of 109 hidden pirate's treasures to lure the (younger?) reader to tack through the Sargasso Sea of skyhunting. J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is cited twice. Given the sketches, information and historical background included, for me this type of material is not necessary to maintain my interest in the book. There is a certain amount of redundancy in the intro and through the book, self-promoting the completion of a trilogy of essential references. In Hidden Treasures (following earlier precedent in Caldwell and , to a lesser extent, in Messier), several of the sketches have fanciful cloudlike patterns or connections between stars, especially star clusters, which are intended to assist the viewer to identify the shapes the author imagines the object to have. As an observer and sketcher of nebulae as well as clusters, i find this unnecessary and intrusive. Finally, altho' i am in the opposing camp concerning the "missing M102" controversy, i appreciate Mr. O'Meara's magnanimous citation of Frommert's work, which presents a compelling argument for the opposing view.
All in all, given my huge respect for the author, bigger but not quite better