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An elightening and entertaining read, May 20 2010
When I first saw the review of this book in New Scientist, I realized that I knew little about the period in scientific history that it covers. How exactly did astronomers arrive at our current view of the vast universe in the period of a few short decades in the early 20th century? The author does a fine job of covering both the science and the history. The science of astronomy in this period is fortunately not too difficult for the layman to follow, being based mostly on painstaking observation through new and more powerful telescopes, careful calculation, and logical thought. The author is not afraid to jump around a little to present it in an understandable sequence, while not losing the thread of the historical tale. The history is brought alive through the detailed and well-written story of the people and politics of the time. My only minor criticism is that the author sometimes glosses over the science just a little bit too much. I also have to say that I'm not personally a big fan of the writing convention that every key historical character has to be introduced with few paragraphs along the lines of "Johnny was a happy baby, born into a family of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas. His father made a living by polishing wagon wheels at the stable... etc." (I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean). I don't really need to know those irrelevant childhood details about historical figures if they're not significant to the story. I wish more authors would break away from that writing convention for historical non-fiction.