WilliamBurroughs Burrows is a longtime space writer, journalist, and author. He's written several books on space policy, and is a faculty member at NYU. Needless to say, his vast experience in writing and space makes him something of an expert on it.
So when he makes a list of the Top Five Space Books, you should read it and pay attention.
And, of course, when he lists Bad Astronomy as his number 5 book, why, you should run out and buy a copy!
Seriously, I was surprised to see my own book on his list, especially when he also lists Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon" and (yikes!) "Lost Moon" by Jim Lovell (from Apollo 8 and 13, yes, that Jim Lovell) and Jeffrey Kluger!
Here is what he said:
5. "Bad Astronomy" by Philip Plait (Wiley, 2002).
Philip Plait is a California astronomer who evidently became so exasperated with the contemporary warping of science by ideology or just plain ignorance that he wrote "Bad Astronomy" as an antidote. This primer on basic astronomy explains, among much else, why the moon sometimes hits your eye like a big pizza pie (it happens when the moon reaches the perigee of its elliptical orbit and is closest to us). But Plait's astronomical discussions also take on creationism. My favorite part of the book: when he goes after the crowd that claims the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. Years ago, Buzz Aldrin showed one way to deal with this bizarre belief when someone shoved a Bible at him and demanded that he swear he actually landed on the moon; Aldrin decked the guy. Plait achieves the equivalent with words.
That last part is pretty cool; I like the imagery of verbally punching Bart Sibrel. I have to say, though, that the reason the Moon looks big on the horizon is not due to it being at perigee; it's a combination of two illusions that tricks your brain into thinking it's bigger when it isn't (in reality, it's slightly smaller on the horizon than when it's overhead).
Still, I'm deeply honored by this. Writing a book is a big process, taking months and years of effort, and of course if it sells well you know it's been worth it. But it helps a lot to be recognized by people who understand the field, and this just made my weekend. It's a great way to end the year!
Tip o' the space helmet to the many folks who emailed me about this!