03 January 2021 Reviews

A History of the Universe in 21 Stars (and 3 imposters)

Aquick glance at this little book with its intriguing title reminds one of the type of books published back in the 1950s or 1960s, when the Space Age was young. From its stylised cover design to its yellowish paper, with its simplified star charts and chapter notes, it channels the comfortable astronomy primers of an earlier and simpler age. Un-surprisingly for a book published in 2020, the similarity ends there.

The author begins by admitting that “only an idiot” would aim to tell the history of 160,000 million billion stars “through the lens of a mere 21”, but lets himself off the hook somewhat by explaining that “what’s true for one star will be more or less true for billions of others”. He does, however, also admit to ‘cheating’ by including the three “imposters” of the title; spoiler alert, they include a globular cluster, the Andromeda Nebula and a quasar.

Spattered throughout with potted astronomical histories and the results from modern-day spacecraft missions, this is an engaging and informative read. In an earlier age, this type of book would have encouraged young readers to investigate further and possibly even embark on a career in the subject; in today’s screen-centric world, its place is unfortunately less certain. One can only hope that it will find a dedicated readership among amateur astronomers with a love for fireside reading.

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