I thought of _Turn Left At Orion_ the other day while browsing, during Christmas season, at a local discount store. Several families were pushing shopping carts with $225.00 telescopes in them, and I envisioned those instruments, two months hence, languishing in closets. If only they had the book! It's truly the missing element that can turn an unexpected present into a lifelong hobby - if not preoccupation.
Without a book like this, you look at the moon. If you're lucky you find Jupiter and Saturn. They're great. What next? Well for anything else, you require a mentor... or this book. Contrary to conventional wisdom, computer controlled telescopes are not the answer. In practice, you have to know star names to use them, and most of them don't center objects reliably - especially in the hands of a neophyte. If anything, frustration with these devices is apt to drive beginners away from astronomy, rather than encourage them.
_Turn Left At Orion_ is written for lone users of small telescopes. It provides the reader with seasonal guide stars to use in locating more obscure objects, and in so doing it conveys the skill and the joy of star hopping. Perhaps I should emphasize the joy aspect, because joy emerges clearly from the narrative. So many astronomy books are written from the standpoint of cold science, but experienced amateurs are in it for the beauty, the awe, and the wonder. That is, they are in it for the joy. To share in this aspect, you have to find objects in the sky. To do that, you have to know where they are, and you have to want to find them. Consolmagno et al tell you where to look, and they make you want to look. Those are the two missing elements in every new telescope. Those are the elements the book provides.
I do have two complaints about the book, however. My primary complaint is that a few of the dimmer guide stars are invisible in light polluted skies. For example, I can see the star, Gamma Sagittae, only in binoculars, and that star is used to locate the Dumbbell Nebula. Similarly, Wasat is used to locate the Clownface Nebula, and that too is not visible to the naked eye from my viewing site. In these cases, I am forced to look up the right ascensions and declinations for the guide stars or for the objects themselves. (These are available in the back of the book.) The objects are typically too dim for the finder scope, and are difficult to find if they do not, by chance, appear in the field of the telescope after such dead reckoning. This, of course, it is exactly the problem with GoTo telescopes, particularly those with narrow fields of view like the Meade ETX90. The guide stars from the book, however, are always visible in the finder scope, and dead reckoning or GoTo invariably gets them within its precincts. The book takes me the rest of the way.
My second complaint is that the book is hard to read in the dark, where it is meant to be read. I get around this imperfection by choosing my objects ahead of time. In the light and warmth of my house, I read the instructions into a multi-message digital recorder. Then I simply play them back as I need them.
_Turn Left At Orion_ is an outstanding selection for any astronomy enthusiast, regardless of experience or equipment. Most importantly, though, it is the missing element for the lone neophyte.
Buy this book.