The Hundred Greatest Stars

by James B. Kaler
2002
Hardcover - 240 pages
from Copernicus Books

From 1,200 feet up in a helicopter, all of us look like ants. Yet, despite this "anonymity of distance," we are mothers or fathers or teachers or investment brokers or housewives or truck drivers or nuclear physicists or homeless persons or... you get the idea. It is mere distance which reduces our fascinating personalities, appearances, careers, etc. into anonymity. In the same way, the anonymity of the stars, pinpricks of light varying only slightly by hue and brightness, is illusory. Each star has its own fascinating life story and fate and effects on its stellar neighbors (and possible planets).

In The Hundred Greatest Stars, astrophysicist and author James B. Kaler picks his own favorite one hundred and one of these anonymous dots in the sky (most but not all visible to the unaided eye) for closer inspection. They turn out to be a fascinating, if motley, crew. Single stars, multiple stars, giant stars a billion times the volume of our Sun, dwarf stars as small as the Earth, stellar "corpses" that could fit inside downtown L.A., stars as bright as a million of our Suns, foetal stars, ancient stars, each as individual as your friends or relatives. Kaler explains, for example, why Mira-type variable stars are responsible for the existence of zircon gems.

Copiously illustrated, each two page spread of The Hundred Greatest Stars has a full color picture (photo, painting, or diagram) facing the highly-readable descriptive text. It would have been helpful to have included a map of the sky at the end of the book to enable beginners to more easily locate Kaler's "hundred greatest" from their own backyards. A modest quibble concerning an authoritative and enjoyable guide to some of the more colorful denizens of our night sky.