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Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology Paperback – March 27, 2006
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This vivid history of modern telescope building focuses on the turbulence, tension and triumph of building the Gemini 8-meter telescopes. Strong personalities, scientific opportunities, technological advances, and institutional rivalries are sharply etched and skillfully illuminated by McCray's deep reading of the record. As astronomers plunge headfirst into the next round of giant telescope building, this book should be on the required reading list. (Robert P. Kirshner, author of The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos)
[An] insightful history of how ground-based telescopes have evolved and flourished over the past 50 years. [McCray's] tale begins with the 200-inch Hale telescope at California's Palomar Mountain, built in 1948, and ends with the twin 8-metre Gemini telescopes on mountains in Chile and Hawaii, completed in 2002. (New Scientist 2004-05-29)
This tale of the giant eyes on the sky that are revolutionising our knowledge of the universe reveals a fascinating piece of science policy and science history. (Martin Ince Times Higher Education Supplement 2004-07-23)
This is an exceptionally readable history of the 50-years-plus evolution of large ground-based telescopes from the era of 'cowboy' astronomers to the present day. Historian Patrick McCray shows how profound changes in the sociology of astronomy alternately drove or reflected the development of giant telescopes in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. (Stephen P. Maran Sky and Telescope 2004-08-01)
In astronomy, phrases such as 'thinking big' don't even begin to cover the situation. Fewer than 100 years ago, this galaxy was all there was but stargazers have pushed the universal population count to about 200bn galaxies so far--each with maybe 200bn stars--and extended the boundaries of the visible universe to about 13 bn light years. So a book about the academic bickering, muddled finance and international finesse behind the instruments that widened human horizons should be welcome. Even better, this heavenly topic has its share of drama and comedy. (Tim Radford The Guardian 2004-09-02)
Select illustrations, a helpful table of giant telescopes, notes, and a list of sources complete a well-written, authoritative, and important study. (Joseph N. Tatarewicz Technology and Culture)
About the Author
W. Patrick McCray is an assistant professor in the History Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara. This is his second book.
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Top customer reviews
For the reviewer who didn't like that there were "too many people": this isn't a technical manual, it's a history. I was really impressed that the author conducted more than 120 hours of interviews with scientists and engineers, in addition to visiting numerous observatories. You can't understand the development of these telescopes without explaining how people and institutions decided what projects to pursue.
turns of post-war US large telescope astronomy and its
desire to retain leadership against growing competition
from Europe and Japan. The story involves a seemingly
endless conflict between private and publicly-funded
astronomers and differing mirror technologies and their
outspoken advocates, against a backdrop of
international partners attempting to join the US effort
and simultaneously knock some order in the US process.
McCray has worked hard to produce a very readable
account. Whether you are a practising astronomer or
interested in how hard it is to synthesize US scientific
opinion, this is well worth reading.
I have been disappointed with the book in general. While many people have been relevant to telescope development, I was so swamped with personalities, that I could not enjoy the "facts" about giant telescopes. Approximately 200 people are introduced, many with just a short bio and a few with a substantial bio. I felt like I was being introduced to a new person on every page (and at 305 pages of text, I was not too far off.)
There is interesting information in this book but it was not much of a pleasure for me to extract it.