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Book review #1: “The Power of Stars”

Springer is publishing some really interesting astronomy books at the moment. “The Power of Stars”, by Bryan E. Penprase, is well worth a read for any astronomer – amateur or professional – who is fascinated by ‘the stories behind the stars’. But this book doesn’t just look at the familiar constellation stories – the ones created by the Romans and Greeks – it looks at the star stories of different cultures and civilisations, around the world and through history, too…

This is a really handsome book, printed on beautiful slick paper, and weighs about the same as a small asteroid. To say it is “lavishly illusteated” would be an understatement – this is a a book that is groaning under the weight of countless beautiful illustrations, many of which were created by the author. Open it on any page and the chances are that page will feature a depiction of an ancient people’s constellation patterns, a petroglyph-painted cave wall or a historical star chart. That alone makes it a book that is more suited to dipping into than reading from cover to cover.

Where the book really succeeds is in opening the reader’s eyes to the incredible wealth of “star stories” invented and immortalised – or in some cases, lost – by the starry-eyed people of Earth. The book describes the celestial legends of, amongst others, the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Chinese, Innuit and many tribes of North American Indians. Reading it I learned so many fascinating facts about different cultures’ alternative names for familiar stars and constellations, and the stories behind them, that it was a little bewildering. Just dipping in at random here, to page 45, I can read how the Innuit name for the constellation Taurus is “Sakiattik”, which translates as ‘breast bone’ and is said to be dogs or hunters in the sky… Page 67 tells me that the North American Chumash tribe – obviously a cheerful lot – knew Aquila as “Shimilaqsha”, which translates as “Land of The Dead”…

…and so on.

One section I found fascinating personally was the one looking at the star tales of the Aborigine people of Australia. Living here in the UK, the southern sky is alien to me, I’ve never seen it, but I do know the stories behind its stars and constellations. But reading the star tales of the native people of Australia made the southern sky seem even more alien, even more exotic, and has made me even more determined to get down there one day to see those stars for myself!

The book also looks closely at the different calendars, cosmic views and Creation stories of different cultures from around the world and through history, and it’s fascinating to compare them, looking for differences and similarities.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the book is also crammed full of paintings, excerpts of poetry(a real delight for me, as you can imagine) and informative photographs, all of which complement the text perfectly.

This isn’t a light book – in terms of content or weight! It’s a real reference work, a book to keep handy on your nearest shelf and refer to again and again, as you find yourself wondering what other names a certain star or constellation is, or was, known by.

This is a book I genuinely can’t recommend highly enough. Colourful, educational, insightful and entertaining, it’s a veritable treasure chest of knowledge. Whether your interest is in ooking at star charts and atlases from the comfort of your armchair, or standing in a dew-soaked field at dawn watching planets glowing above the eastern horizon before dawn, this is a book that really, really does need to be on your bookshelf as soon as possible.

“The Power of Stars”How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilisation, by Bryan E. Penrose: ISBN 978-1-4419-6802-9.

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  1. […] the article here: Book review #1: “The Power of Stars” « Cumbrian Sky […]

  2. […] Read the rest Book Review: Book review #1: “The Power of Stars” « Cumbrian Sky […]

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