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Book Reviews


A Passion for the Planets

Author: William Sheehan

Publisher: Springer

ISBN:978-1-4419-5970-6

Price: £31.99 (Pb) 194pp


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This book is not only a personal diary but also a signpost to further studies on the ancients’ views of the celestial heavens and, in particular, the planets. The first of a trilogy, the subtitle perfectly sets the scope: Envisioning Other Worlds, from Pleistocene to the Age of the Telescope.

The first two chapters charter the author–astronomer’s own path as an observer from the age of seven to the present, mentioning the key questions that many of us have faced. Additionally he has provided wonderful accounts of his journey that has taken him across the globe and the opportunities this has created to observe under various skies. Along the way he recalls equipment used but also emphasises key dates when his passion was matched with total commitment, i.e. Sheehan’s commitment in 1982 to a dedicated programme of serious observing combining this with a goal of using good equipment and developing technique. I do particularly like his declaration near the close of Chapter Two when he advises that, despite using CCD cameras linked from prime focus through to his computer, he still hasn’t lost his appetite for actual personal observation at the eyepiece.

From Chapter Three, the story turns to the ancient astronomers and Sheehan presents his evidence well. From the outset, the reader is reminded how the ancients realised that some celestial bodies shifted against the starry background. The Greek-Roman understanding of five heavenly bodies so named Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn is quickly headlined but Sheehan rightly brings a good argument concerning the early nomadic beings that wandered our own globe but equally wondered of a celestial dance in the sky. In essence Sheehan raises questions concerning the approach of the early sky-watchers and it would be easy to assume they were astronomers but in reality they were spiritual followers of seasons and earthly phenomena. Sheehan moves the debate on and tracks prehistoric history as we know it to help the reader. The book is fast paced as astronomical history essays go but has useful diagrams and an array of good plates.

Sheehan’s book is an enjoyable read and I look forward to next two volumes.

Ian Welland

 

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