Astronomy is an amazing hobby that anyone can participate in right in their own back yard, and a good astronomy book can help. Even if you live in a large city where there is a lot of light pollution it is likely you can still see a few astronomical objects in the night sky. Take a little trip outside of town into areas with less light pollution and you can see hundreds of objects.
While you could spend a lot of money on expensive telescopes, you can do a lot of observing with just your eyes, or a lot more with a pair of inexpensive binoculars.
The question becomes, what equipment do you need, how do you use it, and what are you looking for in the sky? This is where good astronomy books for beginners come in handy.
Why a book and not just read something online or watch some YouTube videos? Because having all the information you need in one place and organized (table of contents, glossary, index, etc) makes it tremendously easier when you are out in the dark trying to learn.
So why a printed astronomy book? Because electronic books while convenient, require a device to read and that device is illuminated which ruins your adaptation to the dark, making it harder to actually see anything. A paper book on the other hand can be lit by a dim red flashlight which will not affect your dark adaptation.
With all that being said, what astronomy books are worth your hard earned money? Here is my list of astronomy books….
4 Best Astronomy Books
Nightwatch 4th edition by Terence Dickenson is one of the “classic” books for amateur astronmers. This is a big, beautiful, spiral bound book that could easily be at home on your coffee table. To give you an idea take one part coffee table picture book, add one part really good text book, then add in one part really cool science magazine (think Omni if you can remember that far back) and you have this beautiful book.
The description online says the previous three editions have sold over 600,000 copies, and as soon as you pick the book up and open it, you understand why. It’s large size makes it perfect for displaying images that are simply jaw dropping such as the star field on page 39. I also really like the star charts and the way the book lays perfectly flat.
If I have one complaint about this book it is that the book is fairly thin at 192 pages compared to 368 and 289 for the next two books I talk about.
The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide is another book by Terence Dickenson and it too is considered a “classic” introductory book. While his other book I recommend, Nightwatch, I described as a combination of picture book, text book, and cool science magazine, this one is pure text book. It is a large (368 pages), heavy, hard cover book in full glorious color just like the best college text book out there, except this is one you will actually enjoy reading.
This appears to be an upgraded and expanded version of Nightwatch, it is even printed by the same Firefly Press. The paper the book is printed on and whatever press they used really makes the images pop. Unfortunately the star charts in the back are pretty, but far inferior to the ones in Nightwatch. I also see the lay flat design in the previous Nightwatch book as far superior.
If you are looking for a book that is as useful to more experienced astronomers as it is the absolute novice, this is it. Unlike many other books like this, it does not stop at the basics but instead takes you right up to the advanced levels which insures this astronomy book stays on your shelf for many years to come.
While this book is big and heavy, and is also by far the most expensive, if you could only have one book on astronomy then this would have to be it.
Author Allan Hall has an excellent no-nonsense book called Getting Started: Visual Astronomy which covers pretty much everything you need to get out and start observing in its 289 pages. I really like this book because it is written to give you the information you need to get going in this hobby quickly while skimping on the fluff and pretty pictures. This is also evident as he chose to release the printed book in black and white which makes it cheaper than the others we have discussed, although not as pretty. Given that most of the objects a beginner will see in the night sky are not colorful anyway, this makes sense and saves my money for other purchases. If you really want color, it is available for Kindle which makes it unique in this list of introductory astronomy books.
I like his conversational tone, which I also said when I recommended two of his other books on astrophotography. I don’t feel preached to, talked down to, or lost in a flurry of technical terms I don’t understand. I also like the fact that he has a whole slew of books about astronomy and astrophotography as well as a pretty nice website so I can get a lot of information with a single consistent tone.
Many people who are just starting out in astronomy enjoy Turn Left At Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis. This is not a introduction to the hobby, but a book designed to help you find things to look at, which is also important. I would highly recommend someone new to the hobby pick up one or more of the three books above before getting this one because they will answer questions such as what the numbers on an eyepiece mean while this book will not.
So now that you know what this book is not, what it is is a nice set of objects you can view and how you go about finding them. The layout of the book is excellent and the overall quality of the book is absolute top notch. The glossary is small, but amazing, including a couple of nice drawings to explain things. I also really like the charts he has included because so many times the layout of charts are hard to understand.
This book is available in standard print edition, spiral print edition (great for use out in the field while observing), Kindle, eTextbook, iBooks and Nook making it the most available astronomy book I know of 🙂
One of the things that really helped me when I was first starting out was my Miller Planisphere. With one of these I was able to find constellations quickly and easily and that let me find plenty of objects to view. It really was a life saver.
With a planisphere you need to purchase the right one for your location. They are typically sold by hemisphere and then latitude. Find the one with the latitude that is closest to where you are, they are not meant to be exact. There is no 42 degree latitude version so you would buy a 40 degree model for that latitude. Also, be sure to get the big one as the little one is hard to use in the dark with a flashlight, at least it was for me.
I can not over emphasize how much this little contraption helped me.