From Publishers Weekly
In this well-researched and very well-written book, Clark tells the embattled, little-known history of modern astronomy, a spry tale full of intrigue, jealousy, spite, dedication and perseverance. Peopled with a large, colorful cast, author and editor Clark (Journey to the Stars) delivers a tale rich in conflict and passion, beginning with William Herschel, an 18th century pioneer of telescope construction, who sets the status quo when he's ridiculed for discovering a relation between sunspot activity and grain harvests. In the 19th century, Clark covers a period of "deep crisis for British science," which saw the Astronomer Royal, George Biddell Airy, do all he could to suffocate solar research in England because he couldn't believe "in any link beyond mere sunlight between the Sun and Earth." Naturally, Airy couldn't stop progress, and solar observation continued through the 19th century under the direction of Greewich Observatory's Walter Maunder; in the 20th century, Clark describes the work of George Hale, instigator of the research that would eventually vindicate old Herschel by showing a profound correlation between sunspots and agricultural production; in the present, Clark considers the success and legacy of space-based observatories (SOHO and STEREO) and land-based radio telescopes. Though it might sound dry, Clark's parade of historical characters dramatize the narrative nicely, and Clark conveys the significance of their scientific observations with plenty of context and thorough references, making this a fascinating work for both casual stargazers and serious astronomy buffs.
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Among the several pioneering solar observers whom Clark discusses, an Englishman named Richard Carrington holds center stage, as much for his disappointments in his pursuit of a scientific career as for his discoveries. To cite but one of his credits, Carrington proved the sun has differential rotation and hence is gaseous. Though accorded recognition in 1859 by Britain's Royal Society, Carrington never obtained the jobs in astronomy he desired, was ever pressed by the demands of owning a brewing business, and made a puzzling marriage to a woman who was illiterate and, as Carrington tragically learned too late, had an angry beau in her background. Other scientists in Clark's cast are far more historically prominent (William Herschel and George Hale, for example), but the author has recovered a touchingly dramatic story in Carrington. Well paced and well chosen. Gilbert Taylor
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