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The Sky Atlas: The Greatest Maps, Myths and Discoveries of the Universe

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After the enormous international success of The Phantom Atlas and The Golden Atlas , Edward Brooke-Hitching's stunning new book unveils some of the most beautiful maps and charts ever created during mankind's quest to map the skies above us. 

This richly illustrated treasury showcases the finest examples of celestial cartography - a glorious genre of map-making often overlooked by modern map books - as well as medieval manuscripts, masterpiece paintings, ancient star catalogues, antique instruments and other appealing curiosities.

This is the sky as it has never been presented before: the realm of stars and planets, but also of gods, devils, weather wizards, flying sailors, medieval aliens, mythological animals and rampaging spirits. The reader is taken on a tour of star-obsessed cultures around the world, learning about Tibetan sky burials, star-covered Inuit dancing coats, Mongolian astral prophets and Sir William Herschel's 1781 discovery of Uranus, the first planet to be found since antiquity. Even stranger are the forgotten stories from European history, like the English belief of the Middle Ages in ships that sailed a sea above the clouds, 16th-century German UFO sightings and the Edwardian aristocrat who mistakenly mapped alien-made canals on the surface of Mars.

As the intricacies of our universe are today being revealed with unprecedented clarity, there has never been a better time for a highly readable book as beautiful as the night sky to contextualise the scale of these achievements for the general reader.

256 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 2019

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About the author

Edward Brooke-Hitching

12 books184 followers
Edward Brooke-Hitching is a writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker. The son of an antiquarian book dealer, he read English and Film at the University of Exeter before entering independent film production. ‘Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports’ is his first book. He lives in London.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
November 12, 2021

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I bought this book on impulse because it was on sale and the picture on the cover was so pretty. Would this be a book of celestial maps? Well... sort of. SKY ATLAS actually ended up being more-- and less-- than what I thought it would be. In the beginning, there are a number of pictures of maps created by indigenous people and early civilizations (and even later ones!) as part of their mythological/spiritual beliefs about the sky, but then SKY ATLAS catapults into the scientific discoveries of the great minds from antiquity to the present day.

I actually haven't taken all that many hard sciences so some of this book was over my head, but I thought the author did a great job taking difficult subjects and simplifying them for the layman (layperson?). For example, comparing the theory of relativity to lying on a trampoline and then shooting a marble at the person (#rude) and the marble getting caught in the dip created by your mass. I understood that! There were also some really fascinating, tell-all-your-friends facts in here, too, like how an Egyptian vizier was executed for allegedly communicating with Saturn or how Venus apparently rotates at the speed that most people walk. Facts like these I could totally get down with and made the book totally worth it IMO, because knowledge is power! (Or... something.)

One of the best things about this book, though, is how inclusive it is. By including spiritual and mythological discoveries, Brooke-Hitching doesn't exclude indigenous people and THEIR observations of the sky. He also talks about the Middle East and Asia, and there are a TON of women scientists featured in here. Some of the things he talked about I had never learned and it was kind of cool to see how many women star-gazers there were and what their contributions to astronomy were.

Overall, SKY ATLAS ended up being a really fun and interesting read, kind of like Bill Nye for adults, and I think that the author has a really fun and accessible narrative "voice" that makes the book even more engaging, despite the difficulty of some of the subject matter.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Anjuna Harper.
170 reviews1 follower
March 30, 2020
My infant brain: History. Space. Science. Pictures. Oooooooooooo.

After pursuing a career in art I forgot my LOVE of space astronomy (I backed out of the amount of maths and lack of story physics would give me) but this book just won the medle of favourite books so far. Funny, enthralling, mindblowing stories of galactic breakthroughs. Puts into perspective the immense amount of time it's taken us to understand the life around us which still has so many unanswered questions. We are ants. The universe is large. We are fish in a fish pond trying to jump out of it. And how some of the scientists and astronomers and mathmetitians actually figured out these theories is beyond me. Sitting in a room just thinking "how can I calculate the motion of the moon, sitting here in my Greek house without a telescope" 'oh I know!' ????????????? How they got from Q to A. Is a genius that dwarfs my understanding.
Profile Image for Atwalys Tristan.
132 reviews10 followers
January 25, 2022
A Triumph .... splendid...a marvellous book full of wonders...a must-have for every dreamer and astronomy buffs...a treasure of a book. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Profile Image for Chris Cloake.
Author 10 books134 followers
September 25, 2021
The real kind of reading experience. A joy to hold, touch and absorb.

Anyone with an interest in life should enjoy this. A triumph!
Profile Image for Patrycja.
34 reviews4 followers
January 5, 2020
Absolutnie przepięknie przestawiona historia astronomii! Pełna ciekawych informacji i zachwycających map nieba.
Profile Image for Kara.
Author 24 books73 followers
March 5, 2021

A very cool and well illustrated history of how long all we humans have been looking up at the night sky and then drawing our interpretations of what we see.
Profile Image for Book Ichor.
88 reviews3 followers
April 26, 2020
Absolutely beautiful. The perfect coffee table book to dip in and out of.
Author 14 books
July 12, 2020
A book of beautiful maps of the stars through the centuries. Informative and interesting, but the maps themselves are, if you will pardon the pun, the stars.
October 11, 2021
Book overview:
Firstly I would like to say I am writing this review from and for an astrologers perspective. Edward makes clear his intention is to create a visual history of the celestial sky, by corelating all of the facets and beliefs throughout history into a single historical continuum. The various periods, cultures and beliefs on creation and there attempts to map the sky and reveal its ever unfolding secrets are a mainstay of the publication. He did have various sub periods in order, but within them I found the book was rather jumbled in regards to ancient and medieval astrology in particular however, the book took on more uniformity as it continued into more modern periods and concentrated on astronomy. Edward believed celestial cartography has been vastly undervalued partly due to its long historical association with astrology, However I believe that like astronomy it was created by astrology and for that the world should be grateful. He insists on imagination as the key to discovery and of course this is without argument as imagination itself is creation, and we are all one within this divine creation of the universe. His understanding of astrology may not be his forte as a few references to Al Kindi and Abu Ma’shar’s relationship appeared to state Abu Ma’shar’s use of astrology created tension between them But I am not sure about this Alkindi was himself an astrologer so this seems unlikely to me. His use of the words astrologer and astronomer were fluid and interchangeable across some earlier periods where he was clearly talking about astrologers in some cases polymaths. However, this is my critical view as an astrologer and the book is not in its entirety about astrology nor was it focus meant to be. It is however an excellent book of historical meaning for astrologers and is well referenced within its chapters with page references linking to other corresponding and notable parts within the book. The maps and art work have wonderfully referenced notations and are a visual smorgasbord of culturally significant pieces. I don’t believe he was in any way overly sceptical towards astrology or demeaning to it in any way, however parts of the book referenced it as pseudoscience and others with cultural and literature legitimacy in some cases referencing accurate predictions to particular maps within the book. Overall I highly recommend this book to astrologers, its an easy and light read with nearly half of the 247 pages littered in maps of the stars and artwork and the other half with some great cultural and historical references to astrology that doesn’t gravitate simply to the west, a book I very much enjoyed and recommend.
Profile Image for Aprilleigh.
817 reviews38 followers
March 10, 2021
I don't even know where to begin with this stunning book. I'd tell you the illustrations are best part, but as good as they are I think that undersells the text itself. Wow! This is the book I was looking for when I thought I was looking for something entirely different. The history in this book covers just the attempt to understand the cosmos, but it covers multiple cultures running from prehistory to modern times. Everything you can imagine is included here - and probably a few things you never would have imagined. For example, on page 11 the caption for the illustration mentions an obscure idea about the origin of Saturn's rings that I never would have considered, and I will never be able to look at Saturn again without remembering.

The illustrations are stunning and cover everything from hand-drawn maps, to ceremonial clothing with representations of constellations and the Milky Way, to letters, illustrations, and objects like Sumerian boundary stones, an elaborate ancient astrolabe, and a hand-painted globe of Mars. There really is too much here to do justice with a short list. Don't skip over the captions here, because much of this material is not touched on in the text.

The first section of the text, The Ancient Sky, starts with prehistoric attempts to understand the world above the Earth, including what we believe is the earliest existing star map in the Lascaux caves of France. It covers cultures all over the globe, including Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the northern parts of Africa. In the second section, The Medieval Sky, the focus shifts to primarily Islamic and European astronomy, although it does briefly cover developments in Mesoamerica (Inca, Maya, Aztec). The next section, The Scientific Sky, covers material most people with an interest in astronomy have some familiarity with - the Copernican Revolution, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Newton. The last section, The Modern Sky, attempts to trace developments from about the mid-1800s to recent developments using the Hubble Space Telescope, InSight (currently still exploring Mars), the Parker Solar Probe (currently shrinking its orbit to get closer to the Sun), New Horizons (currently exploring the Kuiper Belt), and the planned James Webb Space Telescope (launch delayed from March to October of 2021).

I highly recommend the hardcover edition. I just can't imagine the Kindle edition doing any justice to this stunning volume.
Profile Image for Catherine Gottwalt.
362 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2021
I picked this up on a whim when I was browsing at my library, and the selling point for me was the illustrations and pictures, which might sound childish but was exactly what my brain needed. And the star charts were really lovely!

This was a crash course in astronomy through the ages, filled with fun facts and curiosities. The content was rather abbreviated, but I gathered that was kind of the intention. So, this serves well as a good "starting off" text that can point you in other directions regarding which historical figures or theories are key to understanding how the stars have shaped peoples since the beginning of time (or, at least, documented time).

It shied away from a lot of the juicy stuff, though, and by that I mean there's always drama when the minds clash—and we got none of it. Vague mentions of our man Copernicus vs. the Church, and Brahe losing his nose was a very minimal footnote. Or even the Herschel boy making up the "Great Moon Hoax" and leaving Victorians terrified. That felt glossed over. Again, this book was trying to cover a lot of content and did a solid job of doing a summary of a long timeline. I simply felt we could have been given a bit more depth.
Profile Image for Matt Estabrook.
11 reviews
January 1, 2021
I devoured this book in one day and will surely return to it. It's beautiful from cover to cover and the text provides a fast-moving account of astronomy's history.

My only complaint is that sometimes I would have enjoyed more detail about the featured historical sources. For example, Brooke-Hitching introduced me to lunar observer Johannes Hevelius and described his seminal lunar map, but he doesn't picture it. Instead he pictures a subsequent map that was drawn by someone else using Hevelius as a source.

Likewise, he displays a single frame of Julius Schiller's quirky and quixotic atlas that sought to recast the constellations as Christian saints. But this work is beautiful and just the type of curiosity that would warrant further discussion.

Still, I enjoyed this book very much. It's an excellent, fascinating, beautiful work that left me wanting more.
Profile Image for Alenka of Bohemia.
842 reviews17 followers
October 1, 2022
Since the humans looked up to the sky for the first time, they were apparently fascinated by what could possibly lay beyond. Throughout the ages theories were proposed and promoted, myths slowly giving way to science. And yet, even today, too much of what lies beyond the Earth seems impossible, unbelievable, or simply out of the grabs of our minds. In this gorgeously illustrated book, Edward Brooke-Hitching leads the reader gently on the thousands-of-years journey, with his characteristic good humor, including indigenous and non-Western peoples, and giving attention also to women in the field. As Rajesh from The Bing Bang theory would say: "Thank you for taking a journey with me, through the stars." :D
Profile Image for A B.
1,116 reviews14 followers
September 20, 2021

I appreciate the labor of love that this book is, and it does include some beautiful maps. The content is also arranged in a helpful, logical format by timeframe and school of thought.

I just found it incredibly dry, particularly compared to the author's other works. It reads like a high school textbook and tries to condense too much complex, often scientific, material into layman's terms in a limited space. I had to keep Googling bits and pieces to make sense of the information.

While lovely, the maps are very detailed. I needed a magnifying glass to appreciate them. They need to be printed in a large coffee table book vice this format.
Profile Image for Addie Heflin.
32 reviews
January 12, 2022
Beautiful images, engaging and informative writing that takes you through millennia of astronomy. The book does not dive deep into any single culture, but gives a bird's eye view of how ancient cultures regarded the skies. Closer to modernity, it takes familiar and unfamiliar names that have drastically impacted this scientific field, including those who contributed but are not generally celebrated, such as women and BIPOC. I was intrigued to learn that one particularly important discovery made by Edwin Hubble was in fact discovered and published one year earlier, and with greater accuracy than Hubble. Tidbits like that abound in this inspiring book.
Profile Image for Adriana.
Author 3 books39 followers
February 22, 2023
Táto knižka prebudí vašu dávno zabudnutú LÁSKU k vesmíru a astronómii 🥰
História, veda, obrázky, príbehy - má všetko🤗 Priblíži vám, ako vnímali vesmír starovekí Grékovia, ako vyzerala obloha nad stredovekými loďami na mori a ako ľudia kedysi čítali tajné správy skryté vo svetle hviezd. Krásna vecička, ak ste zaťažení na históriu a záhady vesmíru. Pre mňa plná inšpirácii do svojich ďalších príbehov.
Vnútri nájdete najvýznamnejšie mapy oblohy, ale aj informácie o najznámejších objavoch vo vesmíre.
339 reviews3 followers
December 6, 2022
The book I wanted

I’m teaching a high school block astronomy class for the first time and I wanted an anecdotal, cultural history of astronomy over many cultures. This book hit the mark! It was well written and easy to read for a science history buff. The photos of artifacts and deep space are great but in black and white if that matters.

The kindle does seem to have some missing sentences in multiple places but it is still readable.
Profile Image for Louisa Hickman.
37 reviews
April 13, 2021
One of my favourite books of all time. Really well written, absolutely stunning art (printed in extremely high quality), and so interesting. I loved that it covered the origins of astronomy and the roles that the stars played in developing myths in various different cultures, as so few other books on astronomy do that. A super unique book that is a must have for anyone interested in astronomy!
Profile Image for Szymon.
44 reviews
June 8, 2022
Edward Brooke-Hitching, autor eleganckiego "Phantom Atlas" i niebo, jedna z najpiękniejszych rzeczy na świecie. Wynik musi być oszałamiający, prawda?
Nie do końca. Autor miejscami zdaje się zagubiony, przesadnie skupiony na ciekawostkach i estetyce. Kilka drobnych pomyłek tłumacza nie pomaga. Całość jest jednak poczytna, interesująca i przyjemna w odbiorze.
Profile Image for Alex.
44 reviews
December 4, 2022
One of the coolest books I've ever read. I thought it would be a bunch of cool sky maps throughout history, but really it's a very well done complete history of astronomy, inspired by and accompanied by a lot of cool sky maps and other astronomical artifacts. I can't recommend this book highly enough, it is so informative with tons of great pictures.
Profile Image for Anna Belsham.
159 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2021
Quite apart from the stunning pictures and illustrations, this is a brilliant and very interesting history of humankind’s exploration of the stars from ancient times to the current century. A beautiful book and thoroughly recommended.
Profile Image for Mark Fallon.
777 reviews24 followers
August 19, 2022
This book is proof that information can be beautiful. In addition to the images from past books, maps and artifacts, there are subtle "watermark-style" images behind some of the text. And unlike many science historians, the author includes the earliest discoveries of the Asian and Indian observers.
Profile Image for Juli Anna.
2,402 reviews
September 17, 2020
A fascinating survey of the history of astronomy, with a focus on astronomical image-making.
Profile Image for Sierra.
Author 2 books23 followers
March 24, 2021
Amazing book! Going to have to add to my personal collection at some point!
Profile Image for Effy.
92 reviews5 followers
September 9, 2021
Excellent book but I wish it had given a bit more attention to non-European cosmologies. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it greatly.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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