Non-Fiction Reviews


Stars: A Very Short Introduction

(2012) Andrew King, Oxford University Press, pbk, 7.99 / US$11.95, xiii +120pp, ISBN 978-0-199-60292-6

 

This is another one of Oxford University Press' ' Very Short Introduction' booklets that, when it comes to the science topics, are rather good. No surprises that this one is about stars: their formation, energy production, evolution, death, and measurement of size, luminosity, and distance. It is written at the New Scientist level and so should be accessible to anyone who has school-level science.

The difficulty any science writer has in doing such 'short' introductions to a topic is as much what to leave out as it is to include. Here Andrew King does a commendable job to fulfil his brief. Yet, as I suspect with many readers, I would have liked more, but alas the constraint of this wonderful series' precludes covering all the bases and so it is unfair to criticise on omissions. Having said that I really do feel that a table or graph of stellar size and spectrum against stellar longevity would have been worthy of inclusion (which is different from luminosity against temperature the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram which, of course, Andrew does give us).

Of course readers might want to know about the proportions of different types of stars in our Galaxy as well as an explanation of Population I, II and III stars. This is not here (again due to the book series' size constraints) but probably are in a companion book on Galaxies by John Gribbin: I suspect that Andrew King had been given a copy of this by the series' commissioning editors so as to have a steer as to what to omit. The further reading at the book's end is perhaps a bit advanced for many of this book's likely readers. My personal recommendation for someone seeking more on astronomy would be one of the astronomical dictionaries (my well-thumbed to the point of disintegration recommendation is Iain Nicolson's) and on stars specifically the (sadly now dated) Guide to Stellar Evolution by Patrick Moore. Nonetheless Stars: A Very Short Introduction is very good at fulfilling its title's remit.

Stars: A Very Short Introduction is not just an extremely useful booklet to have for those starting to develop an astronomical hobby but also those seeking a concise, inexpensive reference work. Indeed this series is the sort of thing that public libraries should really have. Recommended.

Jonathan Cowie


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