Best Astronomy Books for

Best Astrophysics books for Beginners

Astrophysics / October 25, 2017

The books listed in the previous posts range from "pretty easy" to "extremely hard". so it all depends on your learning goals:

  • achieving a general understanding?
  • acquiring detailed physical knowledge?
  • sophisticated expert knowledge?

If you go for the simplest introductory texts, then you will sacrifice some of the necessary rigour and breadth, and the oversimplifications will probably hinder your path onwards towards true expert knowledge. On the other hand, physical understanding can be achieved without necessarily reading texts in which every page is filled with equations!

So I here review some relatively-easy physical/mathematical introductory texts that do not sacrifice scholarly rigour.

Here is a list of relatively easy (but rigorous) "introductory-to-intermediate level" books on Stellar Evolution & Stellar Structure, with the readership level of the individual books somewhere within the range of "lower undergraduate" through to "easy graduate texts". In other words, in these books you can expect to find graphs and algebra (but not millions of equations from cover to cover!) plus a modest amount of calculus, though with the maths and physics leavened with substantial amounts of descriptive material.

These books are are easily understandable only if the reader has already studied a good year of rigorous maths (especially a Calculus & Analytic Geometry course) and physics at the tertiary level. However, those who have studied the odd unit of maths and physics, and who are familiar with detailed physical/scientific argument, will be able to understand the easier sections of these books if they have enough mathematics to be confident about:

  • algebra
  • the graphical display of functions and relations between variables
  • elementary calculus and differential equations (desirable)

BOOK REVIEWS: (texts on stellar evolution and stellar astrophysics)

"Stars and Stellar Evolution", by K.S. de Boer and W. Seggewiss, 2008, ISBN 569

An excellent concise primer on stellar evolution. All the observational facts are here, but without bogging the reader down in the recondite physics of stellar interiors. This terse volume somewhat resembles an excellent set of university lecture notes, but it is also greatly padded out with ALL of the necessary details. It is not too maths heavy, and contains megatons of useful stellar data and HR diagrams! The good thing about this book is that it presents the intricate and non-simplified details of how various types of stars evolve, but mainly in terms of the Observables and their functional relations.for instance: surface temperature, stellar mass, stellar luminosity, Color-magnitude diagrams, SEDs and spectra. The necessary equations are there, but the pages of this book are not loaded with complex physics and mathematics. Mind you, if you are only used to descriptive books on astronomy, it is still very far from being an easy read.

"The Life and Death of Stars", 2014, by Ganesan Srinavasan, Springer-Verlag, ISBN 847

I really like this I can easily understand the physics and maths in it (My mathematics is OK, but I am no mathematician as my maths is still stuck at the mid-undergraduate university level). This is one of the easiest-to-read undergraduate-level courses in stellar evolution, and it is very understandable, as the physics and maths is pared down to the necessary minimum. Srinavasan says that he only assumes that you understand physics at about first-year university level, e.g. that you have understood the likes of "Halliday and Resnick". However, the author's somewhat simplified approach to the necessary physics and mathematics does not sacrifice scholarly rigour and sophistication; in this respect, Srinavasan's book is markedly superior to a lot of the other introductory (early undergraduate) astrophysics books, which are too often oversimplified to the extent that the simple level of the exposition hinders the future progress of the student's understanding.

"Unsolved Problems in Stellar Evolution", 2000, edited by M.Livio, Cambridge University Press, ISBN

An excellent course in the basics of stellar evolution, without any over-simplification. Quite a lot of the text is descriptive, but the text is complex and physical in orientation, and it is fundamentally very highbrow and "technical" in content. It mainly uses graphs rather than equations to display numerical relations, so this makes it relatively accessible, even for super-advanced amateur astronomers and for undergraduates in the physical sciences. See madbadgalaxyman's review of this book at (American)

"Introduction to the Theory of Stellar Structure and Evolution", 2010/2011, 2nd edn, by Dina Prialnik, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 040
. This book is a well-regarded textbook on the physical theory of stellar interiors, here reduced to its basics.but even the basic physics of stellar interiors is still hard (unless you are very conversant with physics!).

"Evolution of Stars and Stellar Populations", 2005, by Salaris and Cassisi, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 200

An essential reference for the intermediate-to-advanced student of stellar astronomy, describing the modern approach to stellar evolution. The sophisticated exposition in this book stands in marked contrast to the often out-of-date and/or oversimplified material found in many lower-undergraduate astronomy textbooks. At least Seventy percent of this book sticks to observables such as Color-Magnitude diagrams, graphs of scaling relations, and spectra. While this book is usually regarded as a "graduate level" or "beginning professional astronomer" text, this work is so clear and observationally-oriented that the resolute physics/maths undergraduate or the Super-Advanced Amateur Astronomer can (at least with some struggle!) understand large sections of it. See madbadgalaxyman's review of this book at (American)

"Stellar Spectral Classification", 2009, by Richard O. Gray and Christopher J. Corbally, Princeton Series in Astrophysics, Princeton University Press, ISBN 114