The best books to really understand the first science: astronomy

Who am I?

I am a naturalist, astronomer, space artist, and a Harvard world lecturer living in the Rocky Mountains outside of Aspen. So far, I’ve written and illustrated twelve kid’s astronomy books for National Geographic and Penguin Random House. I directed the Science Information Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge Massachusetts for fourteen years then left in 2015 to join NASA’s New Horizons Mission Team becoming one of the first humans to see the planet Pluto up close and personal. I am also a Grammy nominated songwriter/musician, astrophotographer, telescope maker who enjoys scuba diving at night and occasionally has been known to parachute out of perfectly operating aircraft.

I wrote...

Book cover of Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond

What is my book about?

Space Encyclopedia is an updated and expanded 2nd edition of my earlier book Planets, Stars & Galaxies presenting the most up-to-date discoveries of the universe including the first breathtaking image of a real black hole. This cosmic compendium contains everything space travelers might need to know about our solar system, a new menagerie of dwarf planets, the formation and ultimate fate of the universe, great-unsolved mysteries, the future of space travel, and the possibility of intelligent life beyond the Earth.

It has almost everything except the kitchen sink. This is your 21st Century passport to the stars. Check your spacesuit for leaks, your journey begins the moment you open it up.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

David A. Aguilar Why did I love this book?

In 1609, Galileo Galilei pointed his hand-made 30-power telescope at the sky and became the first person to see the craters and mountains on the moon, the phases of Venus, the dynamic moons of Jupiter, and a new multitude of faint stars hidden in the Milky Way. This beautiful book is a historical memoir of science, faith, and devotion. It is a triumphant story of love shared between a father and daughter who may have been a polymath like her famous dad who was dubbed “The greatest light of our time”.

Dava Sobel is a master storyteller and through the prose of ancient recovered letters exchanged between Galileo and his daughter sequestered in a convent, we hear Galileo’s voice, sense his pain and excitement as he changes the history of science, religion, and the world forever.

By Dava Sobel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Galileo's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of his daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has crafted a biography that dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishments of a mythic figure whose early-seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion-the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics-indeed of modern science altogether." It is also a stunning portrait of Galileo's daughter, a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."


Book cover of Building Blocks of the Universe

David A. Aguilar Why did I love this book?

A recognized genius in his own right, Isaac Asimov takes us on an easy-to-read tour-de-force through the most basic elements that make up everything. Spoiler Alert: It’s not just sugar and spice. Anyone who has the slightest curiosity regarding astronomy, diet, health, cooking, physics, or chemistry should read this fabulous, easy-to-understand guide. It reveals what you and I are really made of. All that “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” stuff becomes crystal clear.

It is full of interesting anecdotes ranging from why the Hindenburg was never a great idea, the water that quenches fire is composed of two elements that explode when separately exposed to flame, and how life uses oxygen to function and survive. The Building Blocks of the Universe are just what Isaac Asimov says they are….the foundations of everything that exists.

By Isaac Asimov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building Blocks of the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Edison Foundation Award for the best science book for youth published in 1957.

In this book, which is periodically revised and updated, Isaac Asimov has chosen to call all the chemical elements so far discovered “building blocks of the universe,” and shows why they are just that.

He discusses some of the elements separately, some of them in groups, according to their importance, tells us how they were discovered, who discovered them, how they got their names, what their uses are, and, in some cases, what their dangers are.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes and…

Book cover of The Brightest Stars: Discovering the Universe Through the Sky's Most Brilliant Stars

David A. Aguilar Why did I love this book?

The stars have captivated hunter-gatherers, artists and astrologers, sages and scientists, romantics, and civilizations since the beginning of human time. 

In this book we encounter the twenty-one brightest stars visible from earth and dig into their remarkable secrets. Did you know some giant stars spin so fast they flatten out like eggs? There are stars that pulse back and forth like beating hearts? And some stars are cosmic interlopers passing through our Milky Way galaxy on their way back into the void of forever space. This is my go-to book when I want to refresh my imagination with wondrous facts about the stars blazing overhead. It should be within handy reach of every star-struck observer, camper, or poet.

By Fred Schaaf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Brightest Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fred Schaaf is one of the most experienced astronomical observers of our time. For more than two decades, his view of the sky-what will be visible, when it will be visible, and what it will look like-has encouraged tens of thousands of people to turn their eyes skyward.
—David H. Levy, Science Editor, Parade magazine, discoverer of twenty-one comets, and author of Starry Night and Cosmic Discoveries

""Fred Schaaf is a poet of the stars. He brings the sky into people's lives in a way that is compelling and his descriptions have all the impact of witnessing the stars on…

Book cover of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe

David A. Aguilar Why did I love this book?

Some people may think “Hail Caesar” coursing through Frank Drake’s equation on the possibility and abundance of intelligent life out there in the universe. But hold up Hoss, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee are about to pour cold water all over Frank’s imaginative equation. This was the first book to offer an accurate assessment of the possibility of life among the stars beyond slime, sludge, and bacteria. Intelligent life, capable of technology and communications, may be rarer than we ever imagined.  This is barn-burning thought provoking-informative and sobering look at how unique the sometimes intelligent human species may really be.

By Peter D. Ward, Donald Brownlee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rare Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet, or even any life at all? Questions such as these are investigated in this groundbreaking book. In doing so, the authors synthesize information from astronomy, biology, and paleontology, and apply it to what we know about the rise of life on Earth and to what could possibly happen elsewhere in the universe. Everyone who has been thrilled by the recent discoveries of extrasolar planets and the indications of life on Mars and the Jovian moon Europa will be fascinated by Rare Earth, and its implications for those who look to…

Book cover of The Science Of Aliens

David A. Aguilar Why did I love this book?

This marvelous book will rock and sock the fun part of your brain when it comes to the possibilities of alien life out there among the stars. The Science of Aliens provides authoritative speculation on a whole range of possibilities including bizarre alien body structures, enhanced senses, capabilities, life at the edge, alien sex, social structures, religion, and lifestyles. 

If you like captivating mental gymnastics and broad, almost humorous depictions of alien life as seen in Hollywood films and sci-fi books, then run, fly, leap, scurry, scoot, teleport or slime your way to the nearest bookstore and pick up this gem. Remember, in this universe, ALL of us are aliens!

By Clifford A Pickover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Science Of Aliens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If extraterrestrials ever landed on Earth, they would find us extremely strange. Their first intimation of our existence might well be a Super Bowl broadcast or a stray transmission from the Playboy channel. But, of course, they might seem equally strange to us. How strange? Their senses could be entirely different from ours,they might see in the infrared or hear" radio waves.What would aliens look like? An intelligent octopus-like creature is certainly plausible. What about odd numbers of limbs,a three-legged alien with three arms and three eyes? What about an entire planet of immobile, silicon-based trees" that communicate with each…

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By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.


By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…

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