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June 25, 2008 > Book Review: Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography

Book Review: Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography

By Robert A. Garfinkle

Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography by Nick Kanas (Springer Praxis Publishing), 2007. Pp. 382, appendices, index, 207 illustrations, 24 x 16.5 cm. Price $34.95 (softcover; ISBN 978-0-387-71668-8)

San Francisco Bay Area author, Nick Kanas is an avid collector of celestial maps and charts. He has taken his many years of collecting expertise and condensed them into a marvelous book on this fascinating aspect of enjoying the night sky. His book is filled with 207 color and black and white images of celestial maps from all ages. The surviving celestial maps from Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India and other ancient cultures influenced Greek, Roman, and Islamic sky watchers who in turn produced their own representations of the night sky. Once knowledge of these earlier maps became known to Renaissance European cartographers, the art and craft of representing the night sky on paper reached a high point of refinement. Their maps have become highly prized collectors items, not only for showing the heavens, but for their artistry as well.

From the opening chapter, devoted to explaining the difference between celestial and cosmological maps, to the end chapter, covering modern maps and atlas, you will find something fascinating on almost every page. The author describes the maps for each period and talks about how particular map styles were developed over the years and the relationships between them. Where a map or chart is illustrated, he discusses details shown on the map and gives you a good understanding of the map's place in cartographic history. As you progress through the ages, you can see how one age influenced the work of later eras. I found this to be a fascinating aspect of this comprehensive work. I have read a number of books on the history of celestial cartography, but none with the depth and wealth of information on this important part of the history of astronomy.

One of the appendices lists celestial cartographers in alphabetical order and includes information on the works each individual produced. This is certainly a very handy part of this book. The first appendix gives you tips on collecting celestial maps and what pitfalls to avoid.

Kanas presents a vast and valuable body of knowledge on this subject and has done so in a lucid manner that I found easy to follow and a joy to read. Even though the small size of the book meant that images of the maps would be small, they are reproduced to such a fine point that details on all of them remain easily readable. I highly recommend this book to students of the history of astronomy or anyone interested in observing the night sky.

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