The best Milky Way books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Milky Way and why they recommend each book.

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Minding the Heavens

By Leila Belkora,

Book cover of Minding the Heavens: The Story of Our Discovery of the Milky Way

Young people today casually speak of "galaxies far, far away".  They seem to have an intuitive, even if fanciful, understanding that, like science fiction aliens, they and their fellow humans also reside in a galaxy of their own. A mere century ago, such a belief was a matter of highly debatable conjecture. How did earthbound observers learn that the Sun is just one of the hundreds of billions of stars bound gravitationally in a vast spiral-shaped galaxy? 

As Minding the Heavens ably demonstrates, the answer to that question is a long and fascinating story, one that author Leila Belkora vividly recounts using chapter-length biographies of seven astronomers from the 18th to the 20th centuries.  With help from their assistants and family as well as communication with contemporaries, these curiosity-driven individuals endeavored to determine the form and structure of the celestial realm and learn the true nature of the mysterious hazy…

Minding the Heavens

By Leila Belkora,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Praise for the first edition:

"A terrific blend of the science and the history."

Martha Haynes, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, New York, USA

"The book is a treat... Highly recommended for public and academic libraries."

Peter Hepburn, now Head Librarian, College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, California, USA

Today, we recognize that we live on a planet circling the sun, that our sun is just one of billions of stars in the galaxy we call the Milky Way, and that our galaxy is but one of billions born out of the Big Bang. Yet, as recently as…


Who am I?

Barbara J. Becker received her PhD in the history of science from Johns Hopkins University. Until her retirement, she taught at the University of California at Irvine and now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is a leading authority on astronomer William Huggins. Her research interests include the role of the amateur in the development of nineteenth-century professional astronomy, the redefining of disciplinary boundaries in the face of new knowledge and new practice, and the role of controversy in shaping the substance and structure of scientific knowledge. She is the author of numerous journal articles and editor of Selected Correspondence of William Huggins (2 volumes).


I wrote...

Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

By Barbara J. Becker,

Book cover of Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

What is my book about?

Unravelling Starlight is the first scholarly biography of William Huggins (1824-1910), a retired London silk merchant and self-taught amateur astronomer who was celebrated in his own lifetime as the "father" of astrophysics. 

Based on new evidence on Huggins's life and career gleaned from his unpublished notebooks and correspondence, Unravelling Starlight provides a fresh look at his pioneering contributions to the development of astrophysics and sheds important new light on his collaborative work with his wife, the former Margaret Lindsay Murray (1848-1915).  In 2015, it was awarded the prestigious Donald E. Osterbrock Prize by the History of Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society.

The Last Legends of Earth

By A.A. Attanasio,

Book cover of The Last Legends of Earth

Attanasio can run hot and cold, but when he’s hot he’s on fire! This book may have the most ambitious plot of any novel I’ve ever read and is almost impossible to describe. It spans galaxies, has a truly bizarre vibe, and yet rings true, with a love story thrown in.  

The Last Legends of Earth

By A.A. Attanasio,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Seven billion years from now, long after the Sun has died and human life has become extinct, alien beings reconstruct homo sapiens from our fossilized DNA drifting as debris in deep space. We are reborn to serve as bait in a battle to the death between the Rimstalker, humankind's re-animator, and the zōtl, horrific creatures who feed vampire-like on the suffering of intelligent lifeforms.

The resurrected children of Earth are told: "You owe no debt to the being that roused you to this second life. Neither must you expect it to guide you or benefit you in any way." Yet,…

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian science fiction writer who writes very, very slowly. I’m interested in experimental fiction and books that are unique, both thematically and stylistically. I’d like to think my books fall into this category, or at least that’s what I aspire to. I used to read science fiction exclusively, and the five books I’ve listed here were all read during those formative years; they were fundamental stepping-stones for me, as a writer, and each of them left a profound mark on my idea of how good, or effective, novels can be.


I wrote...

Filaria

By Brent Hayward,

Book cover of Filaria

What is my book about?

I wanted to write a novel that took place in an odd, run-down setting, with relatable characters put into bizarre situations. A structure of rules, like those of the Oulipo books, was added as a challenge to me. I decided that four main characters would occupy separate chapters and never actually meet, yet each would have significant influence on the story of the others; each chapter would take place in a location that’s never repeated; each character would have a different spin on the setting, so that the reader, ultimately, when they get all the perspectives, could interpret it for themselves. To me, there was something about real life in this process, collecting and processing parts with our subjective take on the world to try to form a coherent whole.

Hamlet's Mill

By Giorgio de Santillana, Hertha von Dechend,

Book cover of Hamlet's Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time

This extraordinary book makes us understand what the ancients saw in the sky. It is one of those rare books that change our ideas about myth and archaic thought once and for all, explaining the myths of the whole world by an astronomical key. In a word, this is certainly an extraordinarily important book, which should definitely be read by anyone who is passionate about these topics.

Hamlet's Mill

By Giorgio de Santillana, Hertha von Dechend,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hamlet's Mill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Very nice, clean and solid copy.

Who am I?

 I've been fond of the Homeric poems since my youth. I followed classical studies in the high here in Rome, so I studied Latin and Greek before graduating in nuclear engineering. Then, in addition to my professional activity, I've devoted myself to the study of The Iliad and the Odyssey, with their huge contradictions between geography and their traditional Mediterranean setting. The book I published on this topic was translated and published into eight foreign languages (as The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales), and has given rise to many scientific discussions. I also published The Mysteries of the Megalithic Civilization, a Bestseller here in Italy.


I wrote...

The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales

By Felice Vinci,

Book cover of The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales

What is my book about?

The real scenario of the Iliad and the Odyssey is not identifiable in the Mediterranean Sea, where it gives rise to innumerable inconsistencies, but in Northern Europe. The sagas that gave rise to the Homeric poems came from the Baltic world, where in the second millennium BC the Bronze Age flourished and where many Homeric places, such as Troy and Ithaca, can still be identified. These sagas were brought from Scandinavia to Greece by the blond Achaeans who founded the Mycenaean civilization around the 17th-16th century BC.

This ancient oral tradition was put into writing around the 8th century BC, when alphabetic writing was introduced in Greece, thus giving rise to the Iliad and the Odyssey in their current form.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

By Hannah Barnaby, Andrew Joyner (illustrator),

Book cover of Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia the bunny craves to shoot up to space while Colette the fox dreams of exploring the deep seas. Garcia builds a rocket and Colette, a submarine. Off they go on their separate adventures with their peanut butter sandwiches, of course! In this cleverly worded book, the author compares the two journeys – their similarities and differences, and how the two friends miss each other’s company. Garcia and Colette finally find a way to enjoy their interests together. The illustrations complement the words perfectly. A great read for little humans.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

By Hannah Barnaby, Andrew Joyner (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Garcia & Colette Go Exploring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'THE FULL-SPEED-AHEAD ENTHUSIASM ... IS INFECTIOUS'
-- Kirkus, starred review


Best friends Garcia and Colette are eager to go exploring -- only they can't agree on where to go. Garcia loves everything about space and Colette is obsessed with the sea.

Garcia builds a rocket ship and Colette constructs a submarine, but even though they find amazing things on their journeys, they soon realise they each left something very important back home ...

From new talent Hannah Barnaby and bestselling Australian illustrator Andrew Joyner comes a book about friendship, adventure and compromise.



PRAISE FOR GARCIA AND COLETTE GO EXPLORING

'full…


Who am I?

Who doesn’t like space? I love learning about space! Tip: Picture books are easier to comprehend compared to graduate courses – there’s only so much of Newton-Euler dynamics, inertia tensors, eccentricity vectors, etc. one can handle. Plus, there are no nasty mind-boggling equations in picture books. I mean, do you really want to calculate the maximum flight path angle and the true anomaly at which it occurs? Or solve Kepler’s equations for hyperbolic eccentric anomaly? No, right? Always stick to the picture book if you have a choice! I mentioned some fun picture books (fiction and non-fiction) with amusing or complementing illustrations that helped me on my journey to understanding space. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Simon's Skin

By Nidhi Kamra, Diane Brown (illustrator),

Book cover of Simon's Skin

What is my book about?

Simon thinks his skin is bo-rring. Simon doesn't like boring. So, he tries on different skins, and to his surprise, each comes with its own challenge. Simon soon makes a pleasant discovery about his own skin. This book is about a little boy who discovers he is perfect the way he is.

The Brightest Stars

By Fred Schaaf,

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

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.

The Brightest Stars

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…


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.

Star Names

By Richard H. Allen,

Book cover of Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning

Allen (1838-1906) was described as a "walking encyclopedia" by people who knew him. It was only after acquiring a reprint of his great book, a decade before the internet, that my own research into ancient cosmology took off. Star Names was first published in 1899 and as Wikipedia notes "there is no direct modern equivalent." As is the case with the internet, large sections can also be plucked out and read for pleasure.

Star Names

By Richard H. Allen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Star Names as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is an unusual book for anyone who appreciates the beauty and wonder of the stars. Solidly based upon years of thorough research into astronomical writings and observations of the ancient Chinese, Arabic, Euphrates, Hellenic, and Roman civilizations, it is an informative, non-technical excursion into the vast heritage of folklore and history associated with the heavenly bodies.
From his studies of the writings of scores of ancient astronomers, the author has come up with a fascinating history of the names various cultures have given the constellations, the literary and folkloristic uses that have been made of the stars through the…

Who am I?

As a geologist, I met and shared meals – occasionally under the stars – with individuals with strikingly different backgrounds. In time I realized that, whatever their DNA, they all shared certain beliefs, that the happy dead eventually go upward, for example, even if they start by going down or out to the horizon. Eventually, I concluded that the entire human adventure began in a single moment the day one of our forebears asked another "What shall we do about death?" and was understood. Humans have a single genetic heritage; we also have a single cultural heritage.


I wrote...

What the Stork Brought: African click-speakers and the spread of humanity's oldest beliefs

By John M. Saul,

Book cover of What the Stork Brought: African click-speakers and the spread of humanity's oldest beliefs

What is my book about?

The Bushman of southern Africa and the Hadza people far to the north in Tanzania have a greater difference in their DNA than any other pair of peoples. They represent the oldest split among surviving peoples. Yet Bushman and Hadza traditions both have a special place for "Eland" who long ago mounted the Milky Way to the heavenly Hereafter. 

The heavens, however, are not constant and Eland's path is no longer available, nor is the starry route of the migrating birds who return each spring seemingly reborn or renewed. Following Eland or the birds, "As Above, So Below," does not lead to rebirth. Later religions encountered related problems, which they countered by inventing new "World Ages" and great re-settings, as did the Bushman and the Hadza themselves.

Spirited Away

By Andrew Osmond,

Book cover of Spirited Away

This short book is a detailed study of just one great film, scholarly but without jargon. 

Along the way, he points out many details I had missed. He also demonstrates the connections of Spirited Away to Miyazawa Kenji’s Night of the Milky Way Railway, and other sources and inter-textual references. Very interesting and revealing.

Spirited Away

By Andrew Osmond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spirited Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spirited Away, directed by the veteran anime film-maker Hayao Miyazaki, is Japan's most successful film, and one of the top-grossing 'foreign language' films ever released. Set in modern Japan, the film is a wildly imaginative fantasy, at once personal and universal. It tells the story of a listless little girl, Chihiro, who stumbles into a magical world where gods relax in a palatial bathhouse, where there are giant babies and hard-working soot sprites, and where a train
runs across the sea.

Andrew Osmond's insightful study describes how Miyazaki directed Spirited Away with a degree of creative control undreamt of in…

Who am I?

Princess Mononoke blew my mind. And as I read about Miyazaki himself I thought: here is a kindred spirit. I thought I’d try teaching a course on Miyazaki, not sure if I could sustain a whole semester just about his work—and then I found, there’s way more than a semester’s worth to talk about. After teaching about Miyazaki for a few years, I had to write it all down. Some reviews of my book say my essays are personal, and it’s true, for better or worse—it isn’t about Studio Ghibli or the production process or even about Japan—it’s my reflections on these great films. 


I wrote...

The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

By Eric Reinders,

Book cover of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

What is my book about?

In Miyazaki’s films, what is “the moral of the story?” What’s the message? What kind of people do we become, when we are watching a Miyazaki film? Why do fantastic stories matter in the real world? This book is a series of personal and philosophical reflections on the 10 major works, from Nausicäa to Wind Rises. Miyazaki’s films suggest how we can find meaning in our work; how to retain our creativity even when are tired of the job; and how we can hold true to our dreams when our dreams are compromised. The films lament the loss of the sacred in modern life but never give up hope. They address problems of growing into a new maturity while retaining the good things of childhood. 

Book cover of The Cambridge Star Atlas

When you stargaze almost every night, you’re always looking for new targets. There comes a point in your astronomy career when it’s time to move up at a star atlas, which has well, pretty much everything there is to see in a backyard telescope! This book includes season star maps for both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, as well as basic lunar maps. 

Unlike my beginner stargazing books, which typically feature a single target per page, each chart in this book features several hundred targets. Note that most of the included galaxies are only visible from the darkest skies, far from city lights. So, be sure to have that red flashlight on hand and get ready for a busy night!

The Cambridge Star Atlas

By Wil Tirion,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic star atlas is ideal for both beginning astronomers and more experienced observers worldwide. The clear, full-color maps show stars, clusters and galaxies visible with binoculars or a small telescope. The atlas also features constellation boundaries and the Milky Way, and lists objects that are interesting to observe. This new edition features a clearer map of the Moon's surface, showing craters and features; a second Moon map, mirror reversed for users of telescopes with star diagonals; enhanced index charts showing the constellations more clearly; and a new data table listing stars hosting planetary systems. It is now spiral bound,…

Who am I?

My journey into astronomy began with a small and rickety telescope purchased at a local pharmacy. I found it fascinating to observe the Moon and Saturn with their rings using such meager equipment. I decided to share these views with others by writing my first book, 50 Things to See with a Small Telescope, an easy-to-understand beginner’s guide which I self-published and sold through Amazon starting in 2013. I have since published a number of other books on space for children. Besides writing, I work as the telescope operator at Burke-Gaffney Observatory. In 2020 I was awarded the Simon Newcomb Award for excellence in science communication.


I wrote...

50 Things to See with a Telescope: A young stargazer's guide

By John A. Read,

Book cover of 50 Things to See with a Telescope: A young stargazer's guide

What is my book about?

50 Things to See with a Telescope covers everything you need to know to identify constellations, planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae, and more. Beginner stargazers will find star hopping easy with clearly plotted routes on images of the sky and detailed views from a backyard telescope. 

This easy-to-read, fully illustrated stargazing book will enrich your experience of the skies above. For those living south of the equator, a Southern Hemisphere edition of this book is also available. This book is part of an award-winning series, including: 50 Things to See on the Moon, 50 Animals that have been to Space, 50 Space Missions that Changed the World, and 110 Things to See with a Telescope (coming July 2021).

Book cover of The Mysteries of the Universe: Discover the Best-Kept Secrets of Space

The Mysteries of the Universe doesn’t focus on our Earth but rather on what we see when we look out from Earth. It takes on fascinating topics from moonwalking and Martian dust devils to cliffs on a comet and supernovas. A combination of amazing photographs and artists’ depictions accompanying an accessible text will hold even very young readers.  

The Mysteries of the Universe

By Will Gater,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mysteries of the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Travel to the furthest reaches of the Universe and visit 100 remarkable objects along the way with this stunning space book for curious kids aged 7-9.

Space is so much bigger than young minds can fathom and there is always more to learn. The Mysteries of the Universe is a stunning space encyclopedia for young readers to explore, with reference pages packed with fascinating information, little learners will be captivated as they journey through the vastness of the Universe. From planets and asteroids to black holes and galaxies, every page of this enthralling space book reveals the secrets behind more…


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

The Expanding Universe

By Robert W. Smith,

Book cover of The Expanding Universe: Astronomy's 'Great Debate', 1900-1931

Thanks to spectrum analysis, the development of improved photographic capabilities, and the construction of powerful new mountaintop telescopes, early 20th century astronomers were able to ask and seek answers to an entirely new range of intriguing questions about the nature and structure of the celestial realm. But the inability to resolve all nebulae into stars left them with a nagging mystery to untangle:  are these luminous clouds relatively nearby embryonic solar systems, or extremely distant aggregates of countless stars? 

In The Expanding Universe, author Robert Smith ably transforms archival material into a lively narrative of the dramatic twists and turns -- the disappointing failures, dead-ends, careless errors, contentious controversies, welcome surprises, and successes -- of the decades-long international effort to find answers to this perplexing quandary.

The Expanding Universe

By Robert W. Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the years between 1900 and 1931 astronomers witnessed three startling changes in their view of the Universe. First, the accepted value of the size of the star system, which increased by a factor of ten; secondly, evidence forced the acceptance of the fact that there are other star systems beyond our own Galaxy; and lastly, that observation of these external galaxies disclosed the expansion of the Universe. This book, originally published in 1982, describes and explains in detail these shifts in opinion, considering them in the light of theories and ideas on the nature of the Universe, were current…

Who am I?

Barbara J. Becker received her PhD in the history of science from Johns Hopkins University. Until her retirement, she taught at the University of California at Irvine and now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is a leading authority on astronomer William Huggins. Her research interests include the role of the amateur in the development of nineteenth-century professional astronomy, the redefining of disciplinary boundaries in the face of new knowledge and new practice, and the role of controversy in shaping the substance and structure of scientific knowledge. She is the author of numerous journal articles and editor of Selected Correspondence of William Huggins (2 volumes).


I wrote...

Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

By Barbara J. Becker,

Book cover of Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

What is my book about?

Unravelling Starlight is the first scholarly biography of William Huggins (1824-1910), a retired London silk merchant and self-taught amateur astronomer who was celebrated in his own lifetime as the "father" of astrophysics. 

Based on new evidence on Huggins's life and career gleaned from his unpublished notebooks and correspondence, Unravelling Starlight provides a fresh look at his pioneering contributions to the development of astrophysics and sheds important new light on his collaborative work with his wife, the former Margaret Lindsay Murray (1848-1915).  In 2015, it was awarded the prestigious Donald E. Osterbrock Prize by the History of Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society.

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