Life of the Mind

Stamping Through Astronomy

Renato Dicati. Springer, 2013. 373 pages. $39.95 (paper); $29.99 (kindle).

By Jay Pasachoff

In this most unusual book, the astronomer Renado Dicati provides a course in astronomy, but with 1,300 postage stamps as illustrations, all in color. The result is a gorgeous volume that will be of interest not only to the general public, astronomy students, and amateur astronomers, but also to those interested in philately.

The book—and therefore its illustrations—starts with the constellations and ancient astronomy around the globe and proceeds through the standard history of astronomy with Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo. Less obviously, it shows stamps (and discusses the astronomy) of Halley, Herschel, and others, as well as various planets and other solar system objects such as comets and meteors. Astrophysics is represented by Fraunhofer, Kirchhoff, Maxwell, both Stefan and Boltzmann, and other relevant scientists. Dozens of solar-eclipse stamps are shown, from such places as Alderny, the Marshall Islands, Indonesia, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Iran, and so on.

Postal stationery sometimes surrounds the stamps, with auxiliary images and postmarks showing.

The Italian astronomer Renato Dicati is to be congratulated on this very readable tour de force. It is too bad that the general topic and name index has not been supplemented by an index or list of the individual stamps with identifications by country and year.

Astronomer and author Jay Pasachoff is the director of Hopkins Observatory and Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College.

(Posted on 7/21/2014 )