February Book Review – The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide

This month, club librarian Bruce Murray reviewed The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide – Fourth Edition by the recently departed Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer, two of RASC’s well known members.

Bruce believes this is an awesome book, one that he wished he had read before starting astrophotography. The chapter on binoculars and telescopes alone are worth the price of the book.

Bruce took the opportunity to write to Alan Dyer, asking for some comments on his collaboration with the late Terence Dickinson:

Terry and I embarked on the project to do The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide back in 1988, when we brought him into Edmonton to be a guest speaker in September when the Edmonton Space Sciences Centre, as it was then known and where I was program director, was staging a lecture series about Mars, to coincide with a close opposition that autumn. Terry spoke about the mythology and lure of Mars, a favourite topic of his. He stayed at my house and in chatting in my living room he invited me to participate in his next book project, a more advanced sequel to the then hugely popular (as it still is) introductory level book NightWatch. He knew it would be a big enough project he could not author it on his own. We split up the chapters more or less 50/50. 

We both looked at the various handbooks on amateur astronomy out at the time and saw that none of them really reflected the hobby as it was being practised in North America in the late 1980s. Some didn’t even mention Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, and certainly not Nagler eyepieces! So The Backyard Guide began, to be published in 1991, and revised significantly every decade since then. 

Terry and I often had long phone call chats over the years about the state of the hobby. I shall miss those, but they had not been possible for several years now, as Parkinson’s took its toll. My last conversation with Terry, on one of his better days, was in September 2019 when we were embarking on the big project to revise Backyard Guide again for the fourth edition that came out in late 2021. 

But even then he knew most of the work on the book would fall to me, and to his wife Susan whose company actually produced the book for publisher Firefly Books. Susan kept Terry appraised of the book’s progress through 2020, but it was our team of me, Susan, Ken Hewitt-White, who we brought on to guest author several sky tour chapters, and designer Janice Maclean, who produced the final book. All through emails and Dropbox! We never once all met in person (COVID took care of that!) or even had a Zoom conference call! 

For those interested in checking out this amazing book, please contact Bruce Murray for details on how to access the club’s copy.

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