The curious star-lover in your life might like H.A. Rey’s book this holiday season. ( illustration)
The curious star-lover in your life might like H.A. Rey’s book this holiday season. ( illustration)

With holiday gift-giving season right around the corner, one frequent request I get is to recommend some good astronomy books for the relative beginner.

Yes, books. You may remember them from way back in the B.I. era (Before the Internet).

If you’re like me, you know the joy of wrapping your hands and mind around a good printed book. So allow me to recount a few of those that hold a special place in my heart.

Keep in mind that many of these are classics and some may be tough to find, but they’re all worth the effort.

My all-time favorite is a short book titled Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Stargazer by Ohio amateur astronomer Leslie C. Peltier.

Not strictly an astronomy book, it is instead a delightfully written autobiography that traces the author’s celestial journey from childhood.

I still read it from time to time just to remind myself why I fell in love with the night sky.

To learn more about stars and star groupings, check out these two classics.

The first is The Stars by H.A. Rey (yes, the same H.A. Rey from the Curious George series). This provides a unique twist on “seeing” constellation figures.

Another is The Friendly Stars by Martha Evans Martin and Donald Howard Menzel, which takes readers on a marvelous tour of the stars visible from the backyard.

While some astronomical details in these two are now outdated, the charm of these books is not diminished one bit.

If you’re fascinated by the names and history of the stars and constellations, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Hinckley Allen is for you.

Much more in-depth, though, is a three-volume tome titled Burnham’s Celestial Handbook by Robert Burnham Jr.

You can open either of these to any page and lose yourself in the countless and fascinating historical tidbits.

Maybe you’re curious about some of the more unconventional ideas folks have about the universe — and, believe me, there’s no shortage of these — you should definitely check out Philip C. Plait’s book, Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax.”

Or perhaps you enjoy exploring our internal human conflict between science and faith — what we know versus what we believe. In this case, Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon Haunted World, is the only choice.

Of course, any book by Sagan is near the top of my list, but this is such a well-written and thought-provoking book!

As someone who now uses the internet for a lot of my work, I still owe so much to all the astronomy books on my shelves.

But one stands out above the others: the first I ever read as a child was the 1954 book All About the Stars by Anne Terry White, part of the “All About” series for children. It’s such a magically written introduction to the night sky!

Along with some well-timed school field trips to nearby planetariums, I credit this author for sparking my lifelong fascination with the heavens.

Such marvelous books as these have given me joy and inspiration over decades of stargazing. I hope they might do the same for you!

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at and connect with him on Facebook: @dennismammana. The opinions expressed are his own.