Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Five notable books on astronomers

Stuart Clark is a widely read astronomy journalist. His latest books are novels set around the times of greatest change in mankind's understanding of the Universe. The first book in the trilogy, The Sky's Dark Labyrinth, tells the stories of the lives and work of Galileo and Kepler against the backdrop of the extraordinary times in which they lived. The second book is The Sensorium of God, published in the UK in 2012.

With Daisy Banks of The Browser, he discussed five top books on astronomers, including:
Northern Lights
by Lucy Jago

[Y]ou have chosen Northern Lights by Lucy Jago, which is about the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland.

When I came across this book, I was already working on one about the Northern Lights and the solar storms that create them. My book The Sun Kings has almost become a bit of a prequel to Lucy Jago’s book. One of the things I loved about this whole subject was this dawning of understanding that the earth itself is not an isolated island in space. We are intimately connected with the processes that are going on in the solar system and even the universe.

One of the most obvious ways that the connection manifests itself is through the Northern Lights. Whenever we see these lights in the sky we understand that it is because of colossal explosions on the sun and huge storm particles that are coming through space. I love the way that Birkeland was almost obsessive about trying to understand that and trying to see the bigger picture.

But, sadly, he became a rather tragic figure because he died in uncertain circumstances in a hotel in Japan. And he is not triumphant in his science. He is remembered in retrospect. He never ever felt as if he had achieved something. He never had a sense of personal achievement.
Read about another book Clark tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue