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Astronomy Hacks
Author: Robert Bruce Thompson & Barbara Fritchman Thompson
Pages: 388
Publisher: O'Reilly
ISBN: 0-596-10060-4
Summary: An excellent guide to getting the most out of amateur astronomy
Review Date: 20 October, 2006

As a boy, I remember often sleeping out in our back yard on warm summer nights in the small Southern Utah town where I grew up. More often than not, I slept under the stars, with nothing to obstruct the excellent views of the sky (largely unobscured by the ever-encroaching city lights that now cloud most nightime skies). I think it must have been those evenings when I learned from my brothers about the different constellations, and the milky way, that my appreciation for the broad expanse of a star-studded night sky must have grown.

As a teenager, I received a small, cheap telescope for Christmas one year, out of which I milked the best possible views of the planets I possibly could. The first time I was miraculaously able to pinpoint the tiny disk of Saturn flanked by its rings through that wobbly scope was a magical moment.

As an adult, I have far less time to devote to the hobby, but I still enjoy looking out into the very depths of eternity on a dark night when the milky way paints a broad swath across the sky. Despite the limited time I spend under the stars I still enjoy reading about the topic. When I heard O'Reilly was creating a Hacks book on astronomy, I was eager to get my hands on a copy.

Imagine being able to cull the best information and guidance out of years of attending star parties, years of tips gleaned from rubbing shoulders with the 'old-timers', and putting it all into one book. Such a book would probably be something like Astronomy Hacks, in which long-time amatuer astronomers Robert and Barbara Thompson and their colleagues share a number of useful tips and hints devoted to helping you get the most enjoyment and fulfillment out of amateur astronomy.

The book contains 65 'hacks', each a short article about a particular topic in amatuer observing. A wide range of topics is covered, from selecting equipment, to guidance on observing tactics, to software you can use to enhance your experience. Some of my favorite topics included selecting the right set of eyepieces for your scope, working your way through a single constellation to become more familiar with that particular piece of sky, tips for completing a successfule Messier marathon, and recommendations on how to get the best scope without breaking your bank. You'll find useful information regardless of whether you've got a lot or a little to spend. A full table of contents can be found at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/astronomyhks/toc.html

The book's authors do a very good job at providing lots of detailed and useful information in each hack. The book is authoritative and its suggestions are backed by plenty of experience in the field. In addition to the technical nitty-gritty, the book also provides a good introduction to the culture of amatuer astronomy and will help you "ease-in" as you get acquainted with your local group of astronomy enthusiasts.

Overall, the book provides heaps of practical information and tips that might take you years of experience to gain otherwise. The book repects its audience, there's no dumbing down here, just plenty of what's useful to help you get more of your time under the heavens. If there's one thing lacking from the book it's that there's only 65 hacks, whereas most of the Hacks series have 100. But nonetheless, what's there is very good.

Overall Rating: 9/10

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