Observing the Moon: The Modern Astronomer’s Guide, by Gerald North, pages 381 + x, 18.5 cm x 24.5 cm, Cambridge University Press, 2000. Price Cdn$59.95, hardcover (ISBN 0-521-62274-3).

It is difficult to know what to say about this book. The author has invested much time in preparing it, and Cambridge University Press has done an excellent job of reproducing the many fine drawings and photographs included. Yet it leaves me surprisingly flat; I suspect it is a book that will sit on my shelf rarely opened.

The book is strangely lopsided. Its longest and best section, fully half the book, is a set of detailed descriptions of forty-eight selected regions of the Moon, chosen for their topographic variety and interest. Each lunar region is illustrated by photographs and drawings made at various solar illuminations, and North provides descriptive text and an at-the-eyepiece tutorial. The drawings are typical of the British school of lunar drawing: meticulous pen and ink drawings that are striking to look at, but so stylized as to bear little resemblance to what one sees through the eyepiece.

The large section containing the images and descriptive text is preceded by seven short chapters to provide the reader, whom North typifies as an "interested amateur astronomer who is yet to become a lunar specialist," with the background necessary to begin observations of the Moon. After an introductory chapter, there are sections on the history of lunar observation, equipment for visual observation, photography, electronic imaging, the physical nature of the Moon, and reference sources. Following the massive descriptive chapter, there is a chapter on transient lunar phenomena, obviously a subject dear to North’s heart. Much of the material is superficial, but it is interlaced repeatedly with rather technical sections, almost as if the author wished to show off his scientific credentials.

When I initially started to read the book, I gravitated to the chapter on reference sources. Clearly North’s favourite source is Lunar Sourcebook a User’s Guide to the Moon. Unfortunately the book is currently out of print. North lists seven books and maps taken from Sky Publishing’s web site, which includes such standards as Antonin Rükl’s Atlas of the Moon, and then makes an extraordinary statement: "I must admit that I have no personal experience of the adequacy, or otherwise, of any of these items." In other words, he has not bothered to consult a large part of the standard reference works for lunar observers! It was after reading that statement when I seriously began to doubt the quality of the research underlying the rest of the book.

Finally, there is the question of North’s writing style. It is what I call the "chatty British eccentric" style, typified by the writing of Patrick Moore and Gerald Durrell. While charming to some in small doses, it definitely becomes tiresome in a long book. Then there is his constant whining about the page limitations imposed on him by his publisher, which he repeatedly uses as an excuse to flog his other book and just about anything else published by Cambridge. It took a major effort of will for me to wade through those portions of the text.

So, what is an amateur astronomer interested in the Moon to do? My favourite book on the Moon, Rükl’s Atlas mentioned above, is currently out of print, but scheduled to be reprinted by Sky Publishing soon. It is what I always keep at hand while observing the Moon, and is well worth seeking out on the used market. I cannot in all honesty recommend North’s book to either a beginner or a more advanced student of the Moon.

Geoff Gaherty

Geoff Gaherty has been observing the Moon on a regular basis since he got his first telescope in 1957. His favourite pastime is to play "lunar tourist" at the eyepiece with Rükl’s Atlas as his travel guide.