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210 × 148 × 14 mm
224 pages
100 illustrations, 80 in colour
01 Oct 2017

Comets Nature and Culture P. Andrew Karam

Comets are different from anything else seen in the sky. They can appear anywhere, they move against the background of stars and they change their appearance with time, becoming fuzzy and then sprouting long tails. They have inspired scientists, artists, authors, innumerable religious figures and many people who have seen reflected in them their hopes, fears and sense of wonder in the universe.

Comets takes the reader on a far-ranging exploration of these fascinating phenomena – the most beautiful and dramatic objects in the skies. Andrew Karam delves into the science of comets, the ways in which our scientific understanding of them has changed and how they have been depicted in art, religion, literature and popular culture. He also traces history’s most important comets, including the comet that convinced the Romans that Julius Caesar was a god and the 1066 appearance of Halley’s Comet, which was seen to foreshadow the death of Harold the Second in the Battle of Hastings.

Comprehensive in scope and beautifully illustrated throughout, this enjoyable and informative book will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about these compelling, remarkable celestial bodies.

‘This book, part of a series on natural phenomena, adroitly covers all aspects of these celestial bodies and their impact on humans throughout history. Karam, a health physicist and science writer, emphasizes how various civilizations viewed comets in art, folklore, religion, and literature. Accompanying the text are copious illustrations . . . Karam traces the history of what early scientists such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton believed about the nature of comets . . . A sampling of great comets throughout history and an explanation of how a comet that threatens Earth might be destroyed conclude the volume. Attractive and accessible . . . Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Astronomical bringers of life and death’—this is how Karam characterizes comets (at least in the public imagination) in this very attractive and highly illustrated book. . . . It is part of Reaktion’s Earth series, each with the aim of drawing together science, art, literature, history and culture and the ways in which they have responded to a particular physical phenomenon. . . . It is glossy, full of excellent, diverse, interesting images and with just enough text, divided into standalone sections, to dip in and out of.’ — BBC Sky at Night Magazine

‘Karam has a bright, breezy, and introductory approach. . . . He investigates the cultural influence of comets, and considers their role in art, fiction, fantasy, graphics, and astrological prediction. Here the book benefits from a host of superb illustrations and the author’s commendable writing ability. The influence of Halley’s Comet, and the effect of great comets on the likes of Julius Caesar and the Heaven’s Gate Cult enliven the text.’ — The Observatory

‘Comets have intrigued people over the millennia, as shown by cave paintings and petroglyphs, tapestries from the Middle Ages, and Renaissance paintings. They may have been the carriers of life to Earth, transporting water and complex chemicals, and the bringers of death, impacting Earth and causing mass extinctions. Science writer Karam starts off his slim paperback with an explanation of where comets come from and what they are made of, moves on to discussions of comets’ scientific and cultural effects, and considers some of the most awe-inspiring comets observed to date. Filled with photos, paintings, drawings, and other illustrations, Comets is aimed at not only astronomers but anyone interested in learning more about what Karam has called 'some of the most fascinating objects in the solar system.’ — Cynthia Cummings, Physics Today

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P. Andrew Karam is a scientist, consultant and writer living in New York City. He specializes in topics related to radiation protection and cosmic radiation.