What is a good and easy to read introductory text for an adult with limited basic scientific knowledge to astronomy for someone without a telescope and lives in a big city and why do you think that text is good for a beginner?

  • $\begingroup$ Could you give some more information on background? I mean, are you asking for a general text for an adult who has no science background and is interested in learning more? Are you asking for a book for a child in grade school? Is there something in particular you're interested in learning about (like the solar system, galaxies, cosmology), or a giant all-'round compendium? $\endgroup$ – Stuart Robbins Nov 1 '11 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ Fundamental astronomy $\endgroup$ – abruski Nov 2 '11 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ amazon.com/Astronomy-Dummies-Stephen-P-Maran/dp/0764584650/… $\endgroup$ – YUASK Nov 2 '11 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand why this question is closed. It might be a holdover from a time long ago when people thought book recommendations were off-topic, but that's certainly not true now. $\endgroup$ – knzhou May 10 '20 at 19:29

A new edition of Discovering the Universe was just published this spring, so it's a good time to buy. My PhD advisor is the managing author of the series now. He is really crazy-focused on not glossing over sticky details that make most textbook authors get sloppy and write descriptions that almost but not quite correct. I respect that. It's for his Astronomy 101 class, which services the lab-science requirements for liberal arts majors and had no prereqs whatsoever. It ranges over just about everything you'd be interested in. He also keeps really careful tabs on how many moons and exoplanets have been discovered and updates all the tables in the back with the very latest in research results. (Although those fields are progressing so rapidly that any printed page goes stale fast.) Lots of really majestic telescopic images. No or not much content on doing visual observations yourself.

Carroll & Ostlie is a comprehensive introduction to the math and physics of astronomy, but will require some mathematical background knowledge through basic calculus. I mention this only because it's not clear just how limited your "limited basic scientific knowledge" is. There's no visual component to it at all, so you won't be hampered by your big city life. I used this in my second-year undergrad astrophysics course for astrophysics majors.

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    $\begingroup$ With a price tag of about $100 each, these books are certainly not cheap. $\endgroup$ – knb Nov 2 '11 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ My first edition of Carroll & Ostlie, when the print run was smaller, was closer to $200. Formal astro textbooks are always steep because they sell to a small audience. Others are welcome to recommend books geared more towards the popular audience. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 2 '11 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ With my recent PhD, I've been looking at beefing up my "library." I keep thinking I need to get C&O, but right now it's running around $150 on Amazon, and there are more important books for me to get. Plus, C&O 2nd ed. is ©2006. Astrophysics is a very dynamic field (no pun intended) and I'd expect that a lot of what's in there is likely out of date. I'd guess the fundamentals aren't, but anything relating to any currently active area of research (star formation, CMB, stellar evolution, solar system formation ...) would need some serious revision. $\endgroup$ – Stuart Robbins Nov 2 '11 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I think one should never expect to get the latest theories in an introductory textbook, anyway. Maybe not even a grad textbook. That's not what they're for. :) By the time you're ready to step up to the cutting edge, you've probably got access to institutional subscriptions to most journals and the training to appreciate them. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 3 '11 at 12:53

The answer depends on what you mean by "astronomy." If you want a reference for backyard astronomy and/or how to properly set up and use a small telescope, then I recommend The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Dickinson and Dyer


It is very well written and quite comprehensive.

However, if you're looking for something more formally academic, then it depends even more on what you are looking for. The traditional introductory textbooks used in college and university courses are woefully inadequate, so much so that I don't even use them for the courses I teach any more. Too many publishers are obsessed over details (e.g. current number of jovian satellites, extrasolar planets, etc.) that they leave out the fundamental science, which renders them useless for their intended purpose in the first place. If you really want to see what textbooks used to be, find a very early edition of George Abell's book Exploration of the Universe. The second edition in front of me is copyright 1969. The science foundation is excellent and the level of presentation is much deeper than any contemporary text. The fundamentals never change. Obviously, some here will disagree with me but with twenty years of undergraduate teaching experience I stand by my comments.