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There are no book recommendations for Astrophysics here. I will write my own answer, but I am also interested in what are others' views on the question (I will NOT mark my own answer as the best one).

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Before answering, please see our policy on resource recommendation questions. Please write substantial answers that detail the style, content, and prerequisites of the book, paper or other resource. Explain the nature of the resource so that readers can decide which one is best suited for them rather than relying on the opinions of others. Answers containing only a reference to a book or paper will be removed!

Related: physics.stackexchange.com/q/25512 –  Chris White Dec 11 '12 at 8:52
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3 Answers 3

The two books on my shelf that I regularly thumb through are:

  • Galactic Dynamics by Binney and Tremaine
  • Galaxy Formation and Evolution by Mo, van den Bosch and White

You can probably tell from the titles that neither is a general astronomy text. I find both to be excellent graduate-level texts on their topics. Galactic Dynamics is a classic from the '70s, but was thoroughly revised into a second edition in 2008. It covers nearly everything one could want to know about orbits in general potentials, including both collision-less and collisional fluids, and a wealth of applications to galactic systems. I like Galaxy Formation and Evolution because it is modern (2010), which I think is important for a field that is changing so rapidly. It covers a lot of ground, both processes internal to galaxies and interactions with their surroundings and the broader cosmological environment.

I'll also add another mention for:

  • An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie

As others have mentioned, it is a broad overview. I recall it being easy to read. Now I use it occasionally for reference on topics outside of my particular field (for which I have more detailed books).

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This depends on your purpose. You may be planning to study a single text from the first page up to the back cover, to get a good idea of nowadays astrophysics across different fields, without entering in very detailed phenomenology. In that case, this is a good choice:

  • Astrophysics for Physicists, by Arnab Rai Choudhuri, 2012 Cambridge University Press

This is a compact book, focusing on physical principles rather than phenomenological descriptions. As nearly all general texts, it introduces cosmology from a Newtonian scheme, but then it adds two optional chapters on GR and relativistic cosmology. That is one strong point, as opposed to similar literature in the field. It may be, however, very short in some specific areas (or simply not cover them).

But if your purpose is having a more comprehensive reference, suitable for selecting only the topics you need, here is a combination of two excellent books:

  • An Introduction to Modern Stellar Astrophysics, by Bradley W. Carroll & Dale A. Ostlie, Addison-Wesley

  • Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology, by Peter Schneider, 2006 Springer

They are complementary in its scope. The first one has one of its strongest points in the description of stellar structure and evolution, where it is very clear and full of details, althogh it puts less weight on describing the underlying physics than Choudhuri. It comes with some example codes in fortran and c. The second one is a gem for extragalactic astronomy with a comprehensive coverage, from a very authoritative researcher on gravitational lensing.

Beware of a book called 'An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics', by Carroll/Ostlie too. It is simply the same excellent book on stellar physics, put together with an independent second part that is not as good as the first. The resulting creature is a 1300 pages monster, with extremely small left inner margins that make some chapters almost physically impossible to read.

And finally, some books try to offer a very wide coverage of topics, while restricting the mathematics to a minimum. They are a nice read for beginning undergrads or serious amateurs. One of them is:

  • Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics, by Michael Zeilik & Stephen A. Gregory
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In my experience, few astrophysics books stand out as being particularly excellent. For anyone just starting who wants a broad, easy overview

  • An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie

is the classic, mostly for its comprehensiveness. Don't expect anything high level - undergraduates majoring in astro should quickly find themselves beyond the level of the book - but it offers a brief introduction to almost everything, and can serve as a unified handy reference for all those bizarre conventions astronomers use.

For one specific topic, however, I can think of an excellent book. I have never seen stellar theory presented better than in

  • Structure and Evolution of the Stars by Martin Schwarzschild

(no longer in print). All of the important concepts are presented in a natural way. Reading the whole book cover-to-cover took two evenings, after which stellar theory seemed natural and easy. Of course, for modern research one should be aware that most of Schwarzschild's numbers are off - experimentally obtained opacities and nuclear rates were prone to error back then - and there are more nuances that have since been explored.

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If you like the Schwarzschild book, have a look at the pioneer papers by Kippenhahn et al. in the sixties, if you can understand german. They do there the first modern computer modellings of stellar evolution. Quite nice. Specially the diagrams representing how the different inner zones of the stars evolve in time. –  Eduardo Guerras Valera Nov 23 '12 at 2:50
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