Excerpt from Stargazer by Fred Watson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


The Life and Times of the Telescope

by Fred Watson

  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 360 pages
    Jun 2006, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

As the last day of the symposium wore on, participants began to take stock. They had witnessed for themselves the state of the art of telescope-making at the turn of a new millennium. They had seen a vision of the future, with a football stadium-sized telescope harvesting the secrets of the Universe, and perhaps discovering everything there is to be known. But what they had not been given was any sense of how the telescope had found its way to this point in its development—how, as it approached its 400th birthday, it had been shaped by the dreams and aspirations of earlier generations of astronomers and sculpted by the technological realities they faced. History had played no part in these proceedings. And, while that was entirely understandable in such a futuristic, space-age gathering, it had left the symposium with an air of clinical soullessness.

It was history that finally restored a sense of proportion to the symposium and put humanity back on to the agenda. But it was history of a different kind: modern-day history, intertwined with recent political turmoil.

The last presentation in the adaptive optics conference—almost the last of the whole symposium—was given by

two professors from a former communist bloc country. In faltering English, one slowly read a prepared text while the other illustrated it with old-fashioned overhead projector slides—a dramatic contrast to the slick presentations most speakers had conjured up from their laptop computers. The subject matter was of the highest quality, describing plans for adaptive optics on a proposed 25 metre telescope in the ELT class. But when, at the end of what had clearly been an ordeal, they were questioned about the time-scale on which this telescope would be built, they simply smiled and shrugged. 'We don't know,' they said. 'There are no prospects that it will ever be funded.'

Within the previous year, perhaps half the audience would have received electronic mail from academic colleagues in this same eastern bloc nation asking for help with the barest necessities of life. Food, clothing, books. As a result, many were aware of the economic hardships these two scientists would have left behind at home. They might not have been paid for weeks—maybe even months.

The reminder had a dramatic effect. The air of embarrassed tolerance that had pervaded the room during the stumbling presentation quickly gave way to a wave of genuine sympathy. Thoughts of one-upmanship in the super-telescope league suddenly seemed uncomfortable—and rather unimportant. Thoughts of telescope closures also subsided as new possibilities for innovative and economical modes of operation began to suggest themselves. And, slowly at first, the preoccupation with aperture began to evaporate. The excitement of OWL remained undiminished, but its potential to rise above national boundaries seemed to take on new significance. Perspectives were restored; the fever abated. At last, 'Power Telescopes and Instrumentation into the New Millennium' had begun to find its soul.

Thus was the present and future of the telescope mapped out in the closing hours of Munich's epoch-making conference. A little while later, after all the goodbyes had been said, and promises to keep in touch and exchange information made, the last few delegates left the International Congress Centre. The late afternoon sunshine welcomed them back into the real world, inspired, no doubt, by what they had heard, and perhaps a little wiser. It felt pleasantly warm as they headed for home.

From Stargazer by Fred Watson, pages viii - x of the Prologue, and pages 1-17 of Chapter 1. Copyright Fred Watson. All rights reserved. Excerpt reproduced by permission of Da Capo Press.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
  • Book Jacket
    by Tom Jackson
    Growing up in Mumbai in the '70s, I still remember herbs kept fresh in small glasses of water, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Cruel Beautiful World
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.