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Biographical Works About Astronomers

American Astronomy: Community, Careers and Power 1859-1940, John Lankford, University of Chicago Press 1997
This is a fine book.  It is not only well written but has extensive references and a thorough index. It is fascinating in terms of the viewpoint it takes.  This is not a presentation of facts but an analysis of the structures, the people and the powers that controlled the development of astronomy in America.

Edwin Hubble, Gale E. Christianson Farrer, Straus and Giroux New York 1995
This is a complete and thorough biography of a great astronomer from the beginning.  It is also a story about the quest for astronomical truth in evaluating what structures are really out there, the size of the universe and the foundation for all of modern cosmology.  This is a gripping story not only of one man but of those about him who got astronomy on the right track to our modern understanding of the universe.  A great book about a great, if not one of the greatest, astronomers of modern times.

Explorer of the Universe, A biography of George Ellery Hale,  Helen Wright, American Institute of Physics Press 1994
This a deep and thorough biography of one of the most influential telescope builders of the century.  Hale was a complex person, a scientist, a schemer and the driving force behind what are still three of the great telescopes ever built.  The 40" Yerkes, the 100" Hooker and the 200" Palomar instruments were created largely through his sheer willpower and his ability to raise large amounts of money for their creation.  This is indeed a wonderful biography filled with personal pathos as well as a history of how these seminal instruments came to be.  A must read book.

The Immortal Fire Within,  Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard, William Sheehan,  Cambridge University Press 1995
Barnard was one of the great astronomers of the late 19th century.  This is a true biography with great detail about his personal life.  His work is covered in detail as well.  He was a comet hunter, a pioneer in astronomical photography and a leader at the several observatories where he held positions.  These include Yerkes and Lick where he brought fame and eventually immortality with him.  This is a fine book.

Pauper and Prince, Richey, Hale and Big American Telescopes, Donald E. Osterbrock, University of Arizona Press 1993
This book is a fine intermingling of the lives and accomplishments of several of the influential persons who pushed forward the building of great telescopes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Their lives are intertwined in complex ways with each contributing their part to the success of completing these monumental scientific instruments. This is a fine read.

Russell W. Porter, Explorer, Artist, Telescope Maker, Berton C. Willard, The Bond Wheelright Company 1976.  Porter was not an astronomer but rather an engineer who learned how to build and design telescopes.  He is largely responsible for the design details of the great Palomar instrument. A genius in his own right.

Alvan Clark and Sons, Deborah Jean Warner, William Bell 1996
This is a nice little book about one of the most famous makers of telescope lenses of the past century.  It has a short biography of him.  A large section includes descriptions of the instruments he made and the famous lenses he ground.
A compendium of all known Clark telescopes is included.

A Man Who Loved the Stars, John A. Brashear, University of  Pittsburgh Press 1988.  This is an autobiography written in 1912 through 1920.  It is a thoroughly charming book.  It is the tail of the life of a man who did optical work of various sorts for the likes of Rowland, Draper, Michelson, Hale, Lick, Holden and a large number of the great telescope makers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This is a very nice book to read since it gives such a personal account of what it was like to be an optical pioneer in the early days of astronomical  and spectrographic instruments.

The Astronomical Scrapbook, Skywatchers, Pioneers and Seekers in Astronomy,  Joseph Ashbrook, Sky Publishing 1984.  This is a must book to have, to hold and especially to read. Ashbrook was one of the great editors of Sky and Telescope.  This book gathers together 91 of his best essays.  The book is marvelous look into the lives and activities of astronomers viewed through snippets from their lives.  The stories are interesting, perceptive and amusing all at the same time.  This is a wonderful read, especially for those who are new to astronomy and did not read Sky and Telescope through the years.  Thoroughly enjoyable book.

William Herschel and the Construction of the Heavens, Michael A. Hoskins, Norton 1963.  Hershel's writings with discussions.  There is nothing new to learn about the Heavens from this book, but it gives insight into the thoughts and the genius of William Herschel as he tried to make sense of the structure of the heavens as he was able to define them.  This analysis of his writings may get a bit boring unless you imagine yourself in the middle of the 18th century and ignorant of the universe as we now understand it.

The Shadow of the Telescope, A biography of John Herschel, Gunther Buttmann, translated by Bernard Pagel, Scribner's Sons 1970.
John Herschel, the son of the famous astronomer William Herschel, let a charmed life.  He was born to wealth and had a brilliant mind. This biography is considered one of the best about him. John Herschel was a man for all seasons in the scientific world.  He contributed to mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and was a leading light in the general scientific advancement of the 19th century.  The book is a fascinating account of his scientific work, his travels and the people he knew as colleagues and friends.  This included everyone of renown in science in the 19th century.  I found the book excellent.  It is a bit hard to read since the translation from the original German is a bit stilted.  Never the less this is a book well worth the time spent reading it.

Lowell and Mars, William Graves Hoyt, U of Arizona Press 1976.  This is a nice book about one very controversial astronomer. It seems very fair and is quite interesting from a historical viewpoint.  Lowell was an odd and driven person who has left a great legacy to the astronomical world in the form of his enduring endowment to his observatory complex in Arizona.  An astonishing amount of good astronomy has come out of his passion.

Clyde Tombaugh - Discoverer of Planet Pluto, David H. Levy, University of Arizona Press 1991.  This is a delightful, friendly and just plain nice biography about the discoverer of the planet pluto.  David Levy has researched the life and career of Tombaugh, especially the Lowell Observatory days, with great thoroughness and sensitivity.  He has extracted the earnestness and excitement that was buried in the rather routine life of a fine but little known astronomer and breathed life into the hard work, almost drudgery, that went into Tombaughs discoveries.  I feel that this is a really nice book.  I enjoyed reading it.

The Lord of Uraniborg - A Biography of Tycho Brahe, Victor E. Thoren, Cambridge 1990.  This is a big book and a big tough read about one of the founders of scientific method as applied to astronomical observation.  It goes into great detail about everything.  Brahe had an unbelievably complex life in terms of his position among his relatives, kings and lords and his need to have funds for his work, which was a major expense in an era of distrust of science in general and astronomy in particular.  This is all laid out in excruciating detail.  There is also very great detail about his astronomical measurements, their influence on those around him and various attempts to force accurate observations into a heliocentric model which simply did not work.  He of course was a direct influence on Keppler who in the early 17 century did cast some light onto the true structure of the universe.  I found the book alternately exciting and boring,  never easy to read but in the end an enlightening look into the struggles, successes and failures of the first great observational astronomer.

First Light - The Search for the Edge of the Universe, Richard Preston, Randon House 1987,1996.  This is a book about a small clutch of astronomers that worked at Palomar Observatory in the early 1980s.  They are James Gunn, Donald Schneider, Maarten Schmidt, and Eugene and Carolyn Schoemaker.  The first three were looking for the edge of the universe and the latter two looking for asteroids and comets.  The edition I read was printed in 1996 and is an updated version of the original book published in 1986.  It is mainly a study of the people doing the research and their tactics.  The in depth discussion of their methods and habits is a wonderful if slightly light hearted treatment.  This is a thoroughly enjoyable book about some of the astronomical science that went on at Palomar a decade or so ago and the interesting characters that did it.

The Discovery of Neptune, Morton Grosser, Harvard University Press 1962.  The book tells the tail of the principles involved in the discovery of Neptune.  Adams in England and Leverrier in France.  The book is highly documented, easy to read and as exciting as any mystery one could want.  The interaction among the principles Adams, Airy and Challis in England and Leverrier, in France, Encke, Galle and d'Arrest in Germany it truly fascinating.   The blundering by the British and the fast action by the French and Germans are placed in stark contrast.  This is a great tale of astronomical discovery very well told.

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