Whether interpreted as an auspicious omen or a sentinel of doom, eclipses have had a profound effect upon our cultural development. Throughout recorded history, they have evoked consternation, fear, and dread as well as awe and wonderment.
Ancient peoples were clearly disconcerted by them. The Romans marked pivotal battles with the Greeks by references to an eclipse. The date of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been derived by using biblical mentions of an eclipse. Perhaps most famously, Christopher Columbus extorted much-needed foodstuffs from some increasingly unfriendly native hosts by purporting to demonstrate the wrath of his most powerful God when he accurately predicted a lunar eclipse.
The pattern that eclipses follow a cycle, called the saros was actually calculated thousands of years ago. However, it is only with the help of modern computers that we have been able to analyze and appreciate the data. Eclipses provide unique opportunities for today s scientists to study such contrasting phenomena as the upper layers of the sun, the slowdown of our planet s spin rate, and the effects of celestial events on human psychology.
In Eclipse, Duncan Steel expertly captures our continuing fascination with all manner of eclipses including the familiar solar and lunar varieties and other kinds involving stars, planets, asteroids, and comets as well as distant galaxies and quasars. Steel helps us see that, in astronomical terms, eclipses are really rather straightforward affairs. Moving beyond the mysticism and the magic, the science of eclipses is revealed.
Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon That Changed the Course of History. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2001.
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"Many books have been written about eclipses, but few are as comprehensive as this one. ... Steel's informative book is recommended for all astronomy collections."
-- Library Journal, November 2001
"...fascinating stories of history and science..."
-- Mercury, January/February 2002
"Steel's compendium ranges from entertaining information about eclipses to the scientific significance of the vast amount of technical information astronomers have teased out of these events. ... Generously illustrated, Steel's informative discourse also promises staying power by ending with a guide to the next two decades of solar eclipses."
-- Booklist, October 15, 2001
"Amateur astronomers will enjoy the personal tone of the writing and the clear and detailed description of the process that leads to solar eclipses."
-- Book News, 2001
"...enthralling ... gripping ... an excellent overview of the history and astronomy of the phenomenon."
-- New Scientist (London)
"...a very comprehensive look at the mysterious phenomena known as eclipses. The volume includes numerous detailed, interesting accounts of eclipses throughout history. ...Overall, this is a good book..."
-- Science Books & Films, February 2002
"Astronomer Steel blends historical anecdote with scientific data to provide a comprehensive look at eclipses."
-- Science News, June 1, 2002
"No one should end their life's journey without experiencing a total eclipse of the Sun, nature's most beautiful yet fearsome gift. Many other bodies in the universe--from tiny minor planets to giant clusters of galaxies--also eclipse and are eclipsed. These rare happenings have a rich history, human as well as scientific, here nicely compiled by a gifted astronomer and science writer."
-- Leif J. Robinson, Editor Emeritus, Sky & Telescope
"Beginning with an unusual view of the most famous eclipse of all time, Steele entertains with fascinating facts, anecdotes and trivia about one of Nature's most awesome spectacles."
-- Gerrit L. Verschuur, Author of Impact: The Threat of Comets and Asteroids and Hidden Attraction: The History and Mystery of Magnetism
"...casts a wonderful light on the Earth-darkening event."
-- Daily Telegraph (London)
"Total solar eclipses are the most awe-inspiring celestial phenomena that occur, and Duncan Steel tells us how and why in his book Eclipse. The human interest stories of past eclipses mix with eclipse science to show readers why they should travel thousands of miles for the thrill of eclipses and what past scientists and tourists have found and experienced."
-- Jay M. Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, Williams College and Chair of the Working Group on Solar Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union
"Who'd have imagined that eclipses--those mere wandering shadows--could lead us on such an enthralling tour of cultural as well as scientific history? Steel's deft tracing of the choreography of our earth, sun, and moon lets us behold this awe-inspiring dance 'with the eye of the mind.'"
-- Dennis R. Danielson, Editor of The Book of the Cosmos
"While nature has many impressive sights to offer, a total eclipse of the sun must come at the very top of the list. Duncan Steel's book is an excellent introduction, with lots of relevant details and numerous interesting historical asides, on the general phenomenon of ECLIPSE."
-- Brian G. Marsden, Associate Director for Planetary Sciences, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
"Eclipse is a fascinating introduction and comprehensive guide to one of our solar systems most amazing sights. This is the essential companion for the dedicated eclipse chaser... like myself."
-- Christopher McKay, NASA Ames Space Science Division