BA is one of the Top Five space books

By Phil Plait | December 30, 2006 12:00 pm

William Burroughs 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!

image of the cover of my book, Bad Astronomy

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!


Comments (25)

  1. From personal experience, seeing your own work lifted up for all to see is a very cool feeling.

  2. Tim G

    I would read Discover magazine as a teenager and for some reason Jeffrey Kluger’s articles stood out. I think he’s no longer associated with Discover and now occasionally writes articles for TIME. “Lost Moon” was renamed “Apollo 13” after the movie, which was based on the book. Kluger had a cameo in the movie as a science reporter (the one with the ball and sheet of paper). Both “Lost Moon” and “Bad Astronomy” are good books. I would also recommend “The Case for Mars” and “Entering Space” by Robert Zubrin. Those deal with future possibilities for the space program.

  3. Grand Lunar

    Good to see that I own what is now considered one of the Top 5 space books.

    Too bad I don’t have “Lost Moon” anymore. I don’t know what happened to it (probably lost(!) in transit when I changed ships).

    Anyway, congrats Phil!

  4. The barber of civility

    Phil –

    Congratulations on being recognized by someone with influence in the science world! Mom will be (more) proud! Hopefully, you will see a good uptick in sales!

  5. Tim G

    I should have said this in my first post:

    Congratulations, Phil!

  6. :-)

    Lost Moon is a great read; I have it on my shelf. I have read most of Andy Chaikin’s book too. A couple of years ago I called Andy, and he helped me prep for my “debate” with Sibrel on MSNBC. So this is very cool.

  7. Geoff

    I was actually excited there for a minute. The author of Naked Lunch loved your book!

    Uh Phil, it’s “Burrows”

  8. Congratulations–you deserve it!

  9. The BA says: “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.”

    Yes, it is, and it’s even better to be recognized for it. Congratulations!

    I picked up my copy of your book (and a witty signature) at WorldCon last August, if you recall. In fact, at that convention I got so many requests for my own minor work (click on my name for the website and go to “Spaceships”) that I’ve ordered a limited reprint for those of you out there who are interested.

    So, Phil, how much do you charge to advertise on your site? :-)

    – Jack

  10. gopher65
  11. D’oh! I fixed the spelling.

  12. Gary Mcleod

    A very well-deserved accolade, Phil! Bad Astronomy is one of my favourite books, and sits happily on my bookshelf alongside The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan, Flim-Flam by James Randi, Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer, The Skeptics Dictionary by Bob Todd Carroll and Fads and Fallacies by Martin Gardner. Essential reading for inquiring minds!

  13. Zoot

    The bad astronomer, now even worse!

  14. Pat

    Yeh, I like the last part of the quote especially so. Your writing is a definite knock out. It’s a worry that some people who believe in a hypothetical power (ie. God) fail to believe in a demonstrated power (ie. space rockets) because it says they’ve become locked in a pattern of thinking in which there is not even a little room for novelty. Surely, a disasterous state of mind for a species that relies on further learning for its survival.

  15. Shawn S.

    You deserve the kudos, Dr. Plait. You are one of my personal heroes. When I am discussing skepticism, I always mention your name with the likes of Randi, Dawkins, and others.

    Keep up the great work and congrats on the recognition. :)

  16. skeptigirl

    That’s great and funny at the same time. Here’s this wonderful write up about Bad Astronomy and it contains a tiny bit of bad astronomy, the thing the book is a remedy for. At least he noted the Moon has an elliptical orbit.

    Like I always tell people who question why I bother with detailed explanations of skeptical science issues when the person I am discussing it with has an impenetrable god delusion, I don’t expect instantaneous results. We’re talking 5 and 10 year plans here.

  17. EVelyn Plait

    You have made me proud many, many times. Add this to the list!

    BA MOM

  18. Gary Ansorge

    Skeptigirl: 5 and 10 year plans? Better expect more like 5000 and 10000 year plans. Human mental functioning takes a loooong time to change. It’s only been a couple of thousand years since we began to realize the “voices” in our heads were our own,,,and some STILL think it’s god,,,ah, evolution, why art thou so sloooow?

    Congrats on the kudos, Phil. As some famous comedian once said, ” Thanks for the applause. Please throw money,,,”
    When people toss money your way, you know they’re serious about the applause,,,

    Gary 7

  19. skeptigirl

    I’m much more optimistic than that. Advances in science are moving so fast now they are bound to overwhelm the deniers with the sheer volume of successes.

  20. Lola

    Congratulations on your recognition by William Burrows.

  21. SCR

    Well done Phil.

    Times stacks .. :-)

  22. Melusine

    That’s great, Phil. It’s a most enjoyable book to read. And a book that gets me to go outside and look at the moon upside down between my legs? Inspiring!

  23. 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.

    I wish I could’ve been there to see that. I’ll have to remember that move the next time someone flashes a Bible at me.

    Congratulations, Phil. I haven’t read the book yet — nor did I even know it exists. I’ll look it up.

  24. BigBadSis

    Congrats, Phil! How will we all stand you now? 😉 BTW: I have several copies, one for me and one for each of my children. I think hubby has a copy too. All signed.


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