Standing in the Path of Totality

10 reviews of titles about eclipses.

hot topic book covers september 2017

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Aveni, Anthony F. In the shadow of the moon: the science, magic, and mystery of solar eclipses. Yale, 2017. 312p index ISBN 9780300223194, $28.00; ISBN 9780300227574 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2017

North America is entering a special era for solar eclipses: one crosses the entire US (from coast to coast) this year and another (from Texas to the Great Lakes) will happen in 2024. In preparation for these events, In the Shadow of the Moon is a comprehensive guide for a general audience, including young adults, to this magnificent phenomenon. With an engaging, conversational style that draws readers in, Aveni (Colgate Univ.), who has personally observed eight solar eclipses, reviews how ancient societies around the world came to predict such eclipses, describes the mechanism behind their perpetual occurrence, provides riveting stories on many of today’s eclipse chasers, and tells readers what eclipses are good for (i.e., providing more accurate data on the sun’s diameter and its corona). A longtime archaeoastronomer, the author also uniquely shows how various cultures’ reactions to solar eclipses shed light on their world views. Aveni writes, “Seeing an eclipse leaves you breathless even if you know what’s going on.” This book will make readers who cannot travel to an upcoming eclipse’s path feel as though they are right there. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —M. Bartusiak, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bakich, Michael E. Your guide to the 2017 total solar eclipse. Springer, 2016. 395p index afp ISBN 9783319276304, $34.99; ISBN 9783319276328 ebook, $24.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2017

On August 21, 2017, the Sun and Moon will line up exactly in the sky. As Earth spins and moves in its orbit about the Sun, and the Moon moves in its orbit about the Earth, the resulting shadow will move across the continental United States—from Oregon to South Carolina. The shadow will cast an approximately 60 mile-wide path; if one stands in the center of the shadow, the maximum duration of the eclipse is under three minutes. Bakich, a senior editor of Astronomy magazine, describes the underlying science, as well as the cultural aspects of eclipses. He provides guidelines for safe observing, choosing equipment (e.g., safe solar filters, binoculars, amateur-sized telescopes), and ideas for activities beyond just enjoying the aesthetic experience. Bakich provides details of roads and towns across the country that may offer the best views, and includes projected weather information. High quality paper and copious illustrations and photographs greatly enhance this guide, as do the appendixes and index. About half of this excellent guide is useful for any total solar eclipse; the other half is specific to this one date. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —M.-K. Hemenway, University of Texas at Austin

Close, Frank. Eclipse: journeys to the dark side of the moon. Oxford, 2017. 219p index ISBN 9780198795490, $21.95; ISBN 9780192514868 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2017

Essentially, this is an autobiography that focuses on the parts of Close’s life that involved eclipses—mostly solar but also lunar. Close sprinkles scientific explanations throughout and indulges in a digression about the history of some regions in which eclipses were viewed (or not viewed—clouds happen). The writing style tends towards the breathless, as the author is clearly quite excited about eclipses and wants to convey that enthusiasm. Nonetheless, at times, it can verge on “Hey, kids, we’re gonna have fun today!” and tries too hard to get readers worked up. Maybe this reviewer is just cynical. It might have been more effective if this book had been presented in a format that allowed color photography throughout so that instead of enraptured text being accompanied by murky black-and-white pictures, the beauty the author describes could have been immediately accessible. Most of the photographs are repeated in color in a middle section of the book, but they really lose their immediacy when readers must flip back and forth. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers only. —D. J. Van Domelen, Amarillo College

Crump, Thomas. Solar eclipse. Constable, 1999. (Dist. by Trafalgar Square.) 256p ISBN 0094791708 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2000

Crump, a mathematician and author of several works on anthropology, prepared this book for the August 1999 total solar eclipse. The science of eclipses has been explained more clearly in other books (e.g., Eclipse!: The What, Where, When, Why and How Guide to Watching Solar and Lunar Eclipses, by Philip S. Harrington, CH, Apr’98). Crump provides some interesting historical and cultural background about how people of many locations and times observed and recorded eclipses. Spanning topics as diverse as Stonehenge to China, Newton to Einstein, the bible, and Mark Twain, interesting tidbits of eclipse related information and theory are scattered throughout. In his efforts to prepare for an event that he has never observed himself, the author did a remarkable amount of reading in a wide range of sources. The result is some fascinating stories that have not been pulled together in quite this manner previously. However, the book is slightly uneven—chatty in parts and mathematical in others. Readers may value the author’s notes and bibliography more than the scientific explanation and details predicting an eclipse that has already occurred. Summing Up: Recommended for general readers. —M.-K. Hemenway, University of Texas at Austin

Harrington, Philip S. Eclipse!: the what, where, when, why and how guide to watching solar and lunar eclipses. Wiley, 1997. 280p ISBN 0471127957 pbk, $14.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 1998

Eclipses are rare and beautiful events. Harrington provides a collection of observation and travel hints (even how to pack a telescope for an airplane trip abroad) that come from years of eclipse chasing. The science of eclipses, well described in nonmathematical terms, is followed by practical tips that should save many users from disaster. The author emphasizes preparation, including many clever ideas for checking out your camera or telescope in advance; this is a must whether the viewer has traveled thousands of miles for an event that lasts a maximum of seven minutes (total solar eclipse) or wants to record a lunar eclipse whose total cycle lasts several hours. The guide includes maps and probable weather conditions for all (total, partial, and annular) solar eclipses from 1998 to 2017 and lunar eclipse data for the same period. The line drawings, maps, and tables are well done in convenient format. Summing Up: The photographs are not reproduced in a fashion that reveals the true glory of eclipses, but this useful guide is priced at a level that every library that serves lower-division undergraduates and the general public may afford. —M.-K. Hemenway, University of Texas at Austin

Kitchin, Chris. Solar observing techniques. Springer, 2001. 218p ISBN 185233035X pbk, $44.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2002

A total eclipse of the sun is a truly spectacular sight, and it properly receives much publicity. Less appreciated is the fact that the sun offers many other opportunities for study, and professional astronomer Kitchin’s book is a good introduction to this field. His book starts with a comprehensive summary of such solar phenomena as sunspots, prominences, and eruptions, followed by detailed advice about how to look at these fascinating features. The discussion includes observations with the unaided eye, with telescopes, and with imaging devices. An important feature is the emphasis on the proper methods of making safe observations, since carelessness can lead to serious damage to the eye. Kitchin summarizes the numerous challenges found in observing an eclipse, and concludes with a brief discussion of more advanced techniques. The instruments involved are complicated, and it would be difficult for the novice to build them. The image gallery is striking but would have been more valuable had it been cited in the text and used to supplement the grey-scale illustrations. Appendixes give comprehensive lists of reference material, as well as a handy tabulation of Web sites at which current information about the sun can be found. Summing Up: General readers. —D. E. Hogg, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Littmann, Mark. Totality: eclipses of the sun, by Mark Littmann and Ken Willcox. Hawaii, 1991. 224p ISBN 0824813715, pbk $14.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 1991

Some of the materal in this book is devoted to forecasting the appearance of the July 11, 1991, eclipse and so will soon be outdated, but the book is also one of the best available sources of information on total solar eclipses in general. Topics include the geometry of eclipses, eclipses in mythology, the anatomy of the sun, famous historical eclipses, the scientific uses of eclipses, eclipse photography, and the personal experience of viewing a total eclipse. The important topic of observing safety is covered especially well. There are several interesting short articles by eclipse veterans and a number of wonderful anecdotes. (Thomas Edison traveled to Wyoming to try out a new invention during the eclipse of July 1878, only to be frustrated at the moment of darkness when confused hens returned to the chicken coop where he had installed his telescope.) The drawings and photographs (many in color) are uniformly excellent, and there are extensive tables of data. Summing Up: Highly recommended for all libraries. —T. Barker, Wheaton College (MA)

Littmann, Mark. Totality: the great American eclipses of 2017 and 2024, by Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak. Oxford, 2017. 347p bibl index ISBN 9780198795698, $29.95; ISBN 9780192514899 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2017

Similar to Littmann’s earlier book, Totality: Eclipses of the Sun (CH, Nov’91, 29-1512), in which he concentrated on the 1991 eclipse, this book focuses on the upcoming total solar eclipses of 2017 and 2024, which will be visible in the US. Espenak, an eclipse expert and astrophysicist emeritus at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Littmann (Univ. of Tennessee) cover a wide range of eclipse topics, including the history of eclipses, reactions of animals and people, and how to safely observe and/or photograph an eclipse. Short articles by eclipse veterans, anecdotes, and excellent illustrations and images enliven the text. For the two featured eclipses, there are maps, recommendations for roads to use, and weather predictions. Michael Bakich’s Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse (CH, Jan’17, 54-2196) has more practical advice on equipment and activities but fewer references and anecdotes. Copious references and notes make Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024 suitable as a resource beyond the two featured eclipses—especially the maps for eclipses from 2017 to 2045 and the appendix listing those for 2017 to 2070. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers. —M.-K. Hemenway, University of Texas at Austin

Montelle, Clemency. Chasing shadows: mathematics, astronomy, and the early history of eclipse reckoning. Johns Hopkins, 2011. 408p ISBN 9780801896910, $75.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2011

A total solar eclipse is an awe-inspiring sight, and ancient peoples attributed great significance to such an event. The development of the study of lunar and solar eclipses reflected the development of the society itself. The Mesopotamians attempted to predict eclipses by noting patterns of occurrences over periods of time. The Greeks developed mathematical techniques based on geometric models. These formalisms migrated to India and eventually were refined by the Arabs of the Middle East. The evolution of these studies and their role in advancing society is the theme of Chasing Shadows. In the final chapter of the investigation, Montelle (mathematics and statistics, Univ. of Canterbury, UK) lucidly summarizes how these four great civilizations developed their ideas by building on the work of their predecessors. However, the chapters that describe each civilization are burdened with detail. Readers with limited interest in the translation of the ancient manuscripts might find that the author devotes too much space to transcripts and translations. Further, readers with limited background in mathematics and spherical astronomy might find the details of eclipse prediction to be tedious. This comprehensive, challenging treatise is likely to be appreciated by only a small number of specialists. Summing Up: Recommended. With reservations. Professional audiences. —D. E. Hogg, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Steel, Duncan. Eclipse: the celestial phenomenon that changed the course of history. Joseph Henry, 2001. 474p ISBN 030907438X, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2002

Steel (Univ. of Salford, UK) offers readers interested in eclipses a bit of everything, from scientific details to historical trivia. His explanations of eclipses (solar and lunar as well as similar phenomena such as planets transiting across the solar disk or an occultation where one object passes in front of another) are clear. Steel relates several examples from history where prior knowledge of an eclipse aided an endeavor—such as Columbus obtaining food from reluctant natives in 1504 or Shawnee Indians rising against the Americans in 1806. The use of eclipses to date historical records is well described. Scientific terms are defined throughout the book and also appear in a glossary. A slightly more mathematical treatment is included in an appendix. The book is more complete and more readable than Thomas Crump’s Solar Eclipse (CH, Mar’00). Although Steel includes a nice list of future eclipses, practical tips for observing are superior in Philip S. Harrington’s Eclipse! (CH, Apr’98). The line drawings are useful, though occasionally too small to be easily seen. The only disappointment is the rather poor quality of some of the other illustrations. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates. —M.-K. Hemenway, University of Texas at Austin