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Charts of the Sky.

Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography Nick Kanas (Springer/Praxis, 2007). 382 pages. $34.95, paperbound. ISBN-13 978-0-387-71668-8

OVERHEARD RECENTLY around the Sky & Telescope microwave: "I wonder what star atlas was first to use stick-figure constellations instead of mythological pictures?"

Nick Kanas attempts to answer that very question in Chapter 10 of his new book. This California psychiatry professor has poured decades of personal fascination with old star maps into a comprehensive survey, which goes from antiquity through the 20th century.

We learn of curious map projections long since abandoned, and of upstart constellations that never quite caught on. Near Camelopardalis was one called Custos Messium ("Harvest Keeper")--perhaps a tribute to comet hunter Charles Messier during his lifetime, for it first appeared on a French celestial globe in 1779.


More than 200 illustrations, 76 in color, are nicely presented for a book of modest, 6 3/4-by-9 1/2-inch format. (A few pictures of charts do suffer from uneven lighting, keystoning, or not being perfectly flat when photographed, probably out of respect for their fragile bindings.) Kanas also shows early Moon maps, astrolabes, and volvelles, the precursors of planispheres.

Subchapters treat the chief players in celestial cartography--Johann Bayer, Johannes Hevelius, John Flamsteed, and Johann Bode--and the book ends with short biographies of 145 lesser knowns. An appendix contains wise advice KANAS for anyone collecting antiquarian star maps.

I'm struck by how many celestial atlases came out posthumously or barely at all, like the great works of Hevelius (1690), Flamsteed (1729), and John Bevis (1786). Publishing shenanigans, pride, and tragic fires played roles. Kanas devotes as much space to the makers' lives and times as to the charts they made.

Thus poor Bevis, his atlas's copper plates destroyed, died at age 76 after --what else?--falling from his telescope!

Senior editor Roger Sinnott drew his first star map at age 12, keeping it hidden ever since.

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Title Annotation:Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography
Author:Sinnott, Roger W.
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Previous Article:How it all began.
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