The best books that have inspired my writings on astronomy and space

Ian Ridpath Author Of Star Tales
By Ian Ridpath

Who am I?

I am an author, editor, lecturer, and sometime broadcaster on astronomy and space. My early interest in the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and interstellar communication led me to write my first books, Worlds Beyond (1975) and Messages from the Stars (1978). This interest also led me to investigate UFO sightings, but I soon realized that their explanation lies in human misperception and not ETs. My investigation and explanation of the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO case of December 1980, widely regarded as one of the top-ten cases worldwide and sometimes known as Britain's Roswell, can be found hereIn conjunction with the outstanding Dutch celestial cartographer Wil Tirion, I have produced two standard observing guides for amateur astronomers. 

I wrote...

Star Tales

By Ian Ridpath,

Book cover of Star Tales

What is my book about?

The history and mythology of the constellations from ancient Greek times to the present. The 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the second century AD survived unchanged until the end of the 16th century, when Dutch explorers added 12 new constellations in the southern sky that was below the horizon from Greece. Later astronomers added more constellations to fill in the gaps so that we have ended up with 88 constellations filling the sky from pole to pole.

Star Tales recounts the Greek and Roman myths associated with the 48 original constellations, and tells the story of how the others were added, along with notes on some proposed constellations that fell by the wayside for various reasons. 

The books I picked & why

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The Promise of Space

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of The Promise of Space

Why this book?

Although Arthur C. Clarke is usually regarded primarily as an author of science fiction (think 2001, Rendezvous with Rama) he was also a masterful exponent of science fact. Written at a time when humans were still preparing to land on the Moon, this book opened the door to the vistas of outer space for this budding author. A man generations ahead of his time, Clarke would have been as disappointed as any at our slow rate of progress in space exploration since the Apollo Moon landings. An uplifting view of our technological future, some of it still to come, from a true visionary.

Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection

By Carl Sagan,

Book cover of Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection

Why this book?

Carl Sagan was that most unusual of creatures: a top scientist who was also a lyrical writer. In an era when scientists were still wary of dealing with the press – an aversion that he helped overturn – his books were particularly influential in promoting the search for extraterrestrial life, both on the planets of our own Solar System (notably Mars) and on planets of other stars. In nearly 40 short, varied essays, The Cosmic Connection outlines our links with the cosmos around us, raises the possibility that we are not alone, and discusses what we might do if an extraterrestrial contact were to be received.

UFO Sightings: The Evidence

By Robert Sheaffer,

Book cover of UFO Sightings: The Evidence

Why this book?

Skeptical books about UFOs are rare, and this one is a particular treasure. Sheaffer, a Silicon Valley engineer, and amateur astronomer, has been documenting the UFO field since the 1970s, and continues to report on developments via his blog Bad UFOs. This book is an updated and expanded edition of his earlier work called The UFO Verdict of 1981 in which he concluded that "UFOs as real and distinct entities simply do not exist." Forty years on, nothing has emerged to change that conclusion. If you have ever wondered whether UFOs are worth taking seriously (and why scientists do not), then this thoughtful book will provide your answer.

Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning

By Richard H. Allen,

Book cover of Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning

Why this book?

The classic book on the nomenclature of stars and constellations. R. H. Allen's eclectic mix of star lore from the Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and other civilizations has both charmed and perplexed generations since it was first published in 1899, and it lives on as a Dover reprint from 1963. Now considerably out of date in places, it nevertheless remains a good starting point for those interested in how cultures around the world have impressed their imaginations on the night skies. It was a foundation stone for my own book Star Tales.


By Dorling Kindersley,

Book cover of Universe

Why this book?

I love books full of facts and figures, and for astronomers, this is one of the best. Now in its fourth edition (the first appeared in 2005), Universe (subtitled The Definitive Visual Guide) harnesses a team of expert writers with Dorling Kindersley’s designers, editors, and researchers to produce a sumptuously illustrated review of the Universe from the Earth to the Big Bang, including extensive sections on the night sky and how to view it. Dorling Kindersley’s books are natural successors to the great Reader’s Digest reference books of my childhood. If you want an encyclopedia of the Universe, this is the one to have.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in astronomy, the Universe, and extraterrestrial life?

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