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