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Fire in the Sky: Comets and Meteors, the Decisive Centuries, in Art and Science

Out of Print

By: Roberta Olson and Jay Pasachoff

384 pages, 30 colour plates

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Nov 1999 | #108557 | ISBN: 0521663598
Out of Print Details

About this book

Comets and meteors are spectacular and awe-inspiring natural phenomena, which are among nature's most compelling icons. Since the beginning of recorded time, they have mesmerized people, not least among them artists and astronomers. Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced a larger number and greater variety of representations of comets and meteors than any other country. The development of new technologies, and the burgeoning interest of the general public in science and art, dovetailed with the inherent British interest in nature and a strong literary tradition of comet and meteor symbolism. This beautifully illustrated book examines the link between these works and the achievements of British science in the wake of Newton and Halley. This book will be stimulating to anyone interested in the art or astronomy of comets.

'! an intriguing book ! it is beautifully and profusely illustrated ! As a text, this book is not only eminently readable, erudite and full of insight, but also skilfully weaves together the conversion of comets from mere celestial wanderers to objects of considerable astrophysical interest, the development of the public's interest in comets, and the advances in art as paintings and prints eventually competed with chromolithographs and photographs. The authors and publishers must be congratulated on bringing this fascinating symbiosis between science, politics and art to the attention of a wider public.' David Hughes, New Scientist 'My first reaction to this book ... was 'What a fascinating subject!'; my second to admire the apparent thoroughness and scholarship with which the authors had approached their interdisciplinary subject, and the delightful way in which the publishers had enabled them to illustrate their chosen field in a comprehensive manner.' A. D. Morrison-Low, The Observatory ' ! this book's biggest attraction is not this monochrome fare but the lavish meal of full-colour images it contains'. History of Science ' ! a lushly illustrated and very readable book ! The result is a feast for both the eye and the mind. Olson and Pasachoff have created a visual and intellectual feast from history of both planetary science and art that belongs on the bookshelf (and coffee table) of anyone fascinated by space science.' Meteoritics 'With 160 comet and meteor images (some in colour) that range from the realistic to the imaginative, humorous and bizarre, this work is a visual feast. It has been well researched, copiously footnoted and will be of lasting value as a reference volume. More importantly, it's a good read.' Don Yeomans, Journal of the History of Astronomy '! a feast for both the eye and the mind.' Meteoritics 'Fire in the Sky is an exquisitely produced and profoundly original book.' Ian Seymour, Astronomy Now 'More than 160 reproductions of paintings, photographs, and art-objects with comets and meteors as their subjects stud this book's pages ! Fire in the Sky's illustrations chronicle the development of British visual art concerning comets and meteors from the late Renaissance to our own century. Across the same period. Olson and Pasachoff trace the transformation of human understanding of meteors and comets, from a superstitious regard of them as volatile omens of disater or propitious births to the modern understanding of them as predictable mechanisms in the clockwork universe.' Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin ' ! a valuable resource.' Culture and Cosmos 'It is beautifully illustrated and gives an illuminating account of how together with a variety of scientific and artistic world views fires in the sky have enriched our cultural heritage.' Martin Kearns, Astronomy and Space 'This book gives an interesting insight into the history of comet and meteor sightings throughout the centuries ! I found this a fascinating book that interweaves the contributions of science and art to the recording of comets and meteors. It is full of carefully selected illustrations that provide a fascinating insight into the attitudes and beliefs held by people about these phenomena since the seventeenth century.' Jean Sampson, OUGS Journal


Introduction; 1. Prelude: the beginning of telescopic astronomy and the background of British astronomy and artistic traditions; 2. The heavens on fire: the eighteenth century; 3. The comet-crazed century opens; 4. The triumph of realism; 5. Donati's comet, the watershed; 6. The origin of comet (and meteor) photography; 7. The triumph of the imagination; 8. Comets and the new century; Epilogue: comets and the new millennium; Appendices; List of illustrations; Bibliography; Index.

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