Popular Astronomy

Celestial Sleuth

Using Astronomy to Solve Mysteries in Art, History and Literature

Authors: Olson, Donald W.

  • Recounts intriguing cases in which astronomy has been used as a tool to solve mysteries from art, history, and literature
  • Tackles questions raised in famous art, literature and historical events that can be answered using clues from astronomy
  • Invites readers to re-imagine the creative processes that resulted in some of the world's most well-known masterpieces
  • Clearly explains astronomical concepts with non-technical language and defines terms as needed for wide readership
  • Packed with dozens of art reproductions, historical illustrations and charts to explain the cases
see more benefits

Buy this book

eBook $29.99
price for USA (gross)
  • ISBN 978-1-4614-8403-5
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: EPUB, PDF
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Softcover $39.99
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-1-4614-8402-8
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • Usually dispatched within 3 to 5 business days.
Rent the ebook  
  • Rental duration: 1 or 6 month
  • low-cost access
  • online reader with highlighting and note-making option
  • can be used across all devices
About this book

For a general audience interested in solving mysteries in art, history, and literature using the methods of science, 'forensic astronomy'  is a thrilling new field of exploration. Astronomical calculations are the basis of the studies, which have the advantage of bringing to readers both evocative images and a better understanding of the skies.

Weather facts, volcano studies, topography, tides, historical letters and diaries, famous paintings, military records, and the friendly assistance of experts in related fields add variety, depth, and interest to the work. The chosen topics are selected for their wide public recognition and intrigue, involving artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, and Ansel Adams; historical events such as the Battle of Marathon, the death of Julius Caesar, the American Revolution, and World War II; and literary authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce, and Mary Shelley. This book sets out to answer these mysteries indicated with the means and expertise of astronomy, opening the door to a richer experience of human culture and its relationship with nature.

Each subject is carefully analyzed. As an example using the study of sky paintings by Vincent van Gogh, the analytical method would include:
- computer calculations of historical skies above France in the 19th century
- finding and quoting the clues found in translations of original letters by Van Gogh
- making site visits to France to determine the precise locations when Van Gogh set up his easel and what celestial objects are depicted.

For each historical event influenced by astronomy, there would be a different kind of mystery to be solved. As an example:
- How can the phase of the Moon and time of moonrise help to explain a turning point of the American Civil War - the fatal wounding of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville in 1863?

For each literary reference to astronomy, it was determined which celestial objects were being described and making an argument that the author is describing an actual event. For example, what was the date of the moonlit scene when Mary Shelley first had the idea for her novel “Frankenstein?”

These and more fun riddles will enchant and delight the fan of art and astronomy.

About the authors

Dr. Donald Olson is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Texas State University, but prefers the terms “Celestial Sleuth.” Olson received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California-Berkeley, and after studying galaxy structure for two years at the University of Texas at Austin, he settled into Texas State, where he has been teaching since the early 1980s.

 

Over the past 25 years (1987-2012), the reputation of his department at Texas State University has been established by the publication of more than 40 articles published in such periodicals as The New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine. His work blurs the line between the hard science of forensic astronomy and the humanities. A longtime connoisseur of art and literature, Olson was approached in 1987 with a proposition that would help him merge the arts with his expertise in astronomy. An English professor asked for his help in interpreting astronomical references in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” Shortly afterward, a history professor had a similar request, this time looking at the impact of moonlight and the tides on the amphibious invasion at the Battle of Tarawa during World War II. He has since then gone on to be published in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Sky and Telescope, and Smithsonian magazine, which called Olson “…the leading practitioner of…'forensic astronomy’.”

Reviews

From the book reviews:

“If you have ever wondered looking at a painting or a maybe while watching a film whether or not the astronomical objects are or were in the exact place as the artist depicted them or maybe they just added it to fill in an empty spot, then this book will be a delightful read for you. … you can find some quite famous paintings that will have their astronomical mysteries solved or about which you’ll find out a lot more.” (Kadri Tinn, AstroMadness.com, October, 2014)

“The book is in three parts, one dealing with art, the others with history and literature. … A good point is that the writing is straightforward and technical terms are avoided or explained. … I would … recommend the book. … the book is appealing to astronomers and non-astronomers alike and would make a nice present.” (Mona Evans, BellaOnline.com, July, 2014)

“The book is clearly set out, engagingly written, well referenced, and copiously illustrated. Art works are compared with recent and vintage photographs from the same view points. There is plenty of bibliography for the interested reader to follow up. One does not have to be an astronomer to enjoy it and I recommend it warmly — an illuminating read and also a good present for a non-astronomer.” (P. M. Williams, The Observatory, Vol. 134 (1240), June, 2014)

“Olson tells detective stories that cover an incredibly wide range of topics and well-known cases. He repeatedly comes up with surprising and evocative solutions, all with convincing proofs that scholars should have picked up decades or centuries earlier. The exciting revelations on famous cases make Celestial Sleuth a unique book. … Celestial Sleuth has become my all-time favorite astronomy book because of its beauty and fun, as well as its many startling and convincing new results.” (Bradley E. Schaefer, Sky & Telescope, May, 2014)

“Donald Olson, with colleagues and students, has published many Sky & Telescope articles that use astronomy to explore mysteries from history, art, and literature. Olson … has now collected these and additional pieces in Celestial Sleuth. … If you love astronomy, art, history, or literature you will enjoy Celestial Sleuth and probably want to give it to teachers, students, friends, and family.” (Eric L. Altschuler, Science, Vol. 343, March, 2014)

“Don Olson, a professor of astronomy at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, has worked out a method of identifying locations and times for paintings from a combination of astronomical circumstances—such as shadows, tides, and positions of the moon and stars in the sky—and contemporary records such as journals or diaries. … I found Olson's book delightful and interesting to read, as it linked the science of the skies with human events.” (Jay M. Pasachoff, The Key Reporter, keyreporter.org, February, 2014)


Table of contents (9 chapters)

  • Monet and Turner, Masters of Sea and Sky

    Olson, Donald W.

    Pages 3-34

  • Vincent van Gogh and Starry Skies Over France

    Olson, Donald W.

    Pages 35-66

  • Edvard Munch: Mysterious Skies in Norway

    Olson, Donald W.

    Pages 67-112

  • Yosemite Moonrises and Moonbows

    Olson, Donald W.

    Pages 113-143

  • Moons and Tides in the Battle of Marathon, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, and the Sinking of the Titanic

    Olson, Donald W.

    Pages 147-198

Buy this book

eBook $29.99
price for USA (gross)
  • ISBN 978-1-4614-8403-5
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: EPUB, PDF
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Softcover $39.99
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-1-4614-8402-8
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • Usually dispatched within 3 to 5 business days.
Rent the ebook  
  • Rental duration: 1 or 6 month
  • low-cost access
  • online reader with highlighting and note-making option
  • can be used across all devices
Loading...

Recommended for you

Loading...

Bibliographic Information

Bibliographic Information
Book Title
Celestial Sleuth
Book Subtitle
Using Astronomy to Solve Mysteries in Art, History and Literature
Authors
Series Title
Popular Astronomy
Copyright
2014
Publisher
Springer-Verlag New York
Copyright Holder
Springer Science+Business Media New York
eBook ISBN
978-1-4614-8403-5
DOI
10.1007/978-1-4614-8403-5
Softcover ISBN
978-1-4614-8402-8
Edition Number
1
Number of Pages
XVII, 355
Number of Illustrations and Tables
52 b/w illustrations, 113 illustrations in colour
Topics