Books by Philip S. Harrington

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Astronomy For All Ages

The Deep Sky: An Introduction


The Illustrated Timeline of the Universe

The Space Shuttle

Star Ware, 4th edition

Star Watch

Touring the Universe Through Binoculars


What the Reviewers Had to Say About...


From Fred Espenak in

Astronomy magazine (January 1998 issue)

"...serves as an enjoyable introduction for novices and as a convenient abridged reference of the major events occurring in the next two decades."

In this ambitious and comprehensive guide to both solar and lunar eclipses, author Harrington's enthusiasm for the subject matter is evident. The early chapters discuss the history and basic mechanics of eclipses as well as equipment needed to observe them. Later chapters describe the various types of eclipses, the demands of eclipse photography, and expedition planning. These topics set the stage for the real heart of ECLIPSE!, which occurs in the final two chapters and comprises over half the book.

We are given previews of every solar [and lunar] eclipse from 1998 through 2017. Each total and annular [solar] eclipse is described and illustrated with a map showing the land-based portion of the path. In addition, several tables provide center line coordinates for plotting on your own map, as well as local contact times for five to ten major cities. But the most unique and welcome feature is a weather prospects table giving cloud cover statistics for several locations in or near the path.

The photographs found throughout the book were made by many photographers using a range of equipment. Thankfully, each photo is accompanied by technical information (i.e., lens focal length, f/ number, shutter speed, and film ISO). This is invaluable information for would-be eclipse photographers planning their first expedition as well as for seasoned pros looking for new ideas.

The book serves as an enjoyable introduction for novices and as a convenient abridged reference of the major events occurring in the next two decades. The concept of combining a basic eclipse guide with a twenty-year preview is commendable. The book's price delivers good value, especially if you plan to buy only one book on the subject.

From Serge Brunier in

Sky & Telescope magazine (March 1998 issue)

"Harrington covers everything."

If you've never seen one, you can't truly understand a total eclipse of the Sun. These events - the most beautiful spectacles of nature - are rare on the scale of human experience. You have little chance of seeing one unless you make a special trip. Something mystical happens at the moment you find yourself exactly aligned with the Sun and Moon. Alas, the experience remains indescribable. As Philip Harrington explains in this book, no description nor photograph will ever convey what happens during an eclipse. The author, however, does his best to help you prepare for the event.

The illustrations scattered throughout the book are the clearest and most instructive I've seen. Why aren't there two eclipses (one of the Sun, one of the Moon) each month? How do you explain annular or partial eclipses? With these diagrams, I understand!

Harrington covers everything: from choice of location, including organizing a trip overseas, to the equipment for photographing or simple observing. More generally, he explains what philosophy to adopt before and during totality. For example, don't choose complicated equipment; do choose sturdy gear that is easy to use. Harrington dissects all of the potential problems one is likely to encounter before and during an eclipse.

Last but not least, more than 100 of the book's 280 pages are devoted to the circumstances of upcoming eclipses through the year 2017, whether they be of the Moon or Sun, partial, annular, or total. Everything is there: the dates and times of the phenomena, their durations, and maps of the best sites over which they pass.

In reading ECLIPSE!, underneath the common sense and good advice one gets the sense of an overall philosophy of eclipse chasing. Harrington warns us that a total eclipse is dizzyingly short. You think you're ready? You probably aren't. For example, when you are practicing with your camera you weren't trembling as you clicked the shutter!

Here's another valuable piece of advice from Harrington: don't be obsessed with bringing back an image. Instead just enjoy the show. As a professional photography I regret having seen many eclipses only through the lens of my Nikon.

Harrington's work also addresses total lunar eclipses. They are splendid as well, of course, but they aren't as rare or as intense an experience as solar totality. They won't plunge you into darkness at noon.

The book, through the clarity and simplicity of its prose, is accessible to all, even beginners. But do you really need to consult this book? Harrington makes you want to see an eclipse. The problem with someone who has seen one total eclipse is the same as with a climber who has known the thrill of high altitudes and thin are: he or she can no longer do without.

From Marcus Chown of Britain's

New Scientist magazine
(4 October 1997 issue)

"ECLIPSE! is a mine of invaluable information about eclipses, how to prepare for them, and how to observe them."

In Isaac Asimov's classic story "Nightfall", set on a planet which orbits five suns, nobody knows why civilisation crashes every 10 000 years. Curiously, the crashes appear to coincide with a rare astronomical event when four of the suns are beneath the horizon and the fifth suffers a total eclipse by the planet's moon. As the story begins, this event is about to repeat.

The outcome of the yarn, in the true tradition of good storytelling, is of course inevitable once you know it. Darkness at noon is the ultimate terror to people who have experienced only perpetual light. They are driven mad when night falls for the first time in 10 000 years and, in a desperate attempt to restore daylight, set fire to anything that will burn. Too late it's clear why civilisation collapses repeatedly.

I mention this story because Asimov, in his dramatisation of the extraordinary emotional impact of total eclipses, was not so very far from the truth. Though on Earth total eclipses may not have brought down civilisations, they have come pretty close. Just how close is detailed by Philip Harrington in his delightfully informative book "Eclipse!".

According to Harrington, many ancient cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas believed that a total eclipse was caused by a monster eating the Sun. Terrified out of their wits, people would drop everything and do all in their power to scare away the creature. Often, this involved gathering together to bang drums and shout and scream as loudly as possible. "It must have worked," Harrington observes wryly. "The Sun returned every time."

Today, of course, we can be smug in our knowledge that a total eclipse is caused not by anything supernatural but merely by the passage of the Moon across the face of the Sun (which, by a bizarre coincidence happens to appear the same size in our sky). However, if you think this somehow immunises modern people against the emotional impact of eclipses, think again. Harrington quotes one hard-bitten observer who witnessed an eclipse in July 1991 as saying: "It was so overwhelming I couldn't breathe without sobbing and had to wipe tears from my eyes."

Before reading this book, I had little appreciation of how totally an eclipse assaults the senses. First, the shadow comes racing out of the west at some unheard of speed like the hand of God. Then, as the Moon takes its first bite out of the Sun, a terrific din is heard as panic-stricken birds fly to their roosts, fooled into thinking that night has suddenly come. At the same time, the temperature drops precipitously, sometimes by more than 10 degrees.

But all this is as nothing compared with the eclipse itself. I'd never realised it was such a complex event. At one stage, as sunlight breaks through the lunar valleys, the black disc of the Moon is surrounded by a necklace of fiery beads--"Baily's beads". Then, at totality itself, stars come out and the Sun's tenuous outer atmosphere appears, extending ghostly fingers into space. Often, there are prominences--wisps of phosphorescent gas ejected from the Sun which form exaggerated loops of fire as they fall back to the surface. Very occasionally, it is even possible to see comets grazing the Sun. Finally, as the Sun is reborn, there is the most spectacular sight of all--the "diamond ring".

"Eclipse!" is a mine of invaluable information about eclipses, how to prepare for them, and how to observe them. In fact, it contains everything you could possible want to know about eclipses, including the tracks of all total eclipses until 2017. People in Britain are in for a treat when the track of an eclipse crosses the Lizard and Land's End on 11 August 1999. After reading this book, I booked a hotel. I'd advise anyone else to do the same.

From Michael Maunder in

Journal of the British Astronomical Association (108, 1, 1998, p.46)

"This enthusiasm for his topic shows through."

Using a subtitle 'The What, Where, When, Why & How Guide to Watching Solar & Lunar Eclipses' is an ambitious aim and I think the author does cover a lot of ground here, literally. Not only is Philip a veteran eclipse chaser, but he conveys a real enthusiasm and knowledge which will encourage many readers to follow his example and travel. This enthusiasm for his topic shows through. By quoting his own experiences, the author makes sure the reader is made aware of how the subject can get a grip of you. Where support is needed, there are ample quotes from friends and other amateur eclipse chasers to keep the interest going. Some of these quotes and phrases really do ring true. I particularly like the one he uses on page 54: 'The 'C' word', is the heading for a discussion on clouds! 

The author has chosen to tackle the theoretical background in some detail. If you want to know the 'what & why' bits, they are covered in sufficient detail to give the facts well. But just in case, in explaining one of these, he gives 'a note to nitpickers' to explain what really does happen to the science. I like this. How often do we suffer from nitpickers, when it is principles that matter? The knotty problem of the eclipse track itself is dealt with as a description of what is meant by the 'limits of track', and why it is important to allow for the Earth's curvature. Also, why last minute checks become all-important at these limits. There is a lot of good common-sense practical advice on how to go about getting to an eclipse and photographing it. Much is not how I would go about it, and that is the whole
point. One always finds new ways of tackling a problem, or remembers things one used to do which are worth reviving. 

If I have any complaint about the book it is the over-confident use of the American culture. By the nature of the topic, the book will be read world wide, and some of the jargon and figures of speech are not at all obvious. I'm still puzzling over 'prorate' on p.67, although I guess its meaning. Not everyone will get the full significance of filling in a tax form on April 15, p.247, although the essential message of not leaving eclipse preparations till the last minute shows through, and has impact. Using a radio to check local times is the way most of us do the job, but other countries do have just as good a system. One of them is called GMT=UT. The real gem of Americanisms is what used to be called a 'Schoolboy Howler' on p.98. Inviting you to 'Expose Yourself' is guaranteed to get you arrested in most places, perhaps even in America. 

I can recommend the book as a useful addition to any eclipse-addict's library, even if many of us will not survive to 2017. It is an inspiration to beat the actuarial odds and see some of the events. One of these is so rare, the chance to see Uranus and an eclipsed moon at the same time in October 2014, that it is in my diary. A long time ago I learnt that much can go wrong on the day and here is another approach to avoiding many pitfalls.  Instead of using an equipment case to contain everything, I will revive the idea of a dustsheet to catch dropped items. If that fails, we will both use it as a shroud if the 'C' word applies.