Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos
Alan W. Hirshfeld
This is one of the best books I've read in the past year, an excellent history that surrounds the quest to discover, catalogue, and complete the map of the universe. I believe what makes this book stand out among the other histories of astronomy that I have read, is that this makes a conscious effort to write on the underlying technological improvement and mechanical design of each new iteration of tools. This is the book that describes the beginning of precision science in all the ways that matter. Terrific illustrations, explanations, and small tidbits (wait till you find out who Tycho Brahe had as a 'pet'!) are found all throughout this book. My only problem is that the book ends too quickly!
The greatest scientific minds applied themselves in vain to the problem across the millennia, beginning with the ancient Greeks. Not until the nineteenth century would three astronomers, armed with the best telescopes of the age, race to conquer this astronomical Everest—their contest ending in a virtual dead heat. Against a sweeping backdrop filled with kidnappings, dramatic rescue, swordplay, madness, and bitter rivalry, Alan Hirshfeld brings to life the heroes of this remarkable story. Meet the destitute boy plucked from a collapsed building who becomes the greatest telescope maker the world has ever seen; the hot-tempered Dane whose nose is lopped off in a duel over mathematics; the merchant’s apprentice forced to choose between the lure of money and his passion for astronomy; and the musician who astounds the world by discovering a new planet from his own backyard. Generously illustrated with diagrams, period engravings, and paintings, Parallax is an unforgettable tale that illuminates the distinctly human side of science.