Book Review by Bill Dellinges
“Seeing in the Dark”
By Timothy Ferris
Simon & Schuster, 2003
I found this book a most interesting read. I don’t believe there has been a book before quite like this. Ferris shines the light on amateur astronomy’s “Hall of Fame”. You’ll find personal interviews with the likes of David Levy, Patrick Moore, Barbara Wilson, Jack Newton, Tom Parker, Clyde Tombaugh, Stephen James O’Meara, and others. Often these chats occur in the field while stargazing. There are references to many others such as Tom Bopp, Allen Hale, Jeff Medkeff, Robert Evans, John Dobson, George Alcock, etc. Ferris reminds us that prior to 1900, most astronomers WERE amateurs and discusses at length their contributions to the field (William and John Herschel, Percival Lowell, Copernicus, Kepler, Halley, Bessel, Olbers, Tempel, Schwabe, Parsons, Dawes, et al).
The book is interspersed with primers on all the main astronomical topics, so reading it is like taking an introductory astronomy course. Depending on your knowledge of the subject, you may find these passages tedious or redundant. While I found this to be the case occasionally, I still learned a lot and for familiar material, well, it never hurts to refresh your memory!
Ferris really did his homework for this book. There are copious footnotes listed in the back that amount to a book in itself. Thus, as I read the book, I kept a bookmark both in the text and notes section. Those who have read his other books (Galaxies, Coming of Age in the Milky Way) know he has a flowery writing style. This comes out as he shares his poignant feelings for the hobby while discussing his own observing experiences (residing in San Francisco, he has an observatory in Marin County with an 18” telescope). I think any amateur astronomer will enjoy this book. After all, it’s about us! (And it’s a bargain at $14).