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208 × 156 mm
232 pages
82 illustrations, 43 in colour
17 Nov 2017

Star Theatre The Story of the Planetarium   William Firebrace

Most of us can recall a childhood visit to a planetarium: the sense of anticipation, the room darkening, the stars coming up, the voice of the astronomer. In the planetarium, the wondrous complexity of the cosmos combines with entertainment in a theatre of the night. But how and where did the planetarium originate? What kind of simulation of the solar system and the universe does the planetarium produce? How does the planetarium mix theatre with science? And how has it changed with developments in astronomy?

Star Theatre explores the history of this unique building, designed to reveal the universe around us on an ever-expanding scale. It traces its historical origins, from the early precedents for the planetarium, to its invention in Germany in the 1920s, its developments in the USSR and the United States, its expansion across the globe at the time of the space race and the evolution of the contemporary planetarium in the recent period of startling astronomical and cosmological discoveries. This concise, well-illustrated history will appeal to planetarium lovers as well as those interested in astronomy, architecture, theatre and cinema.

One of BBC Sky at Night's 12 books of Christmas 2018

Star Theatre is a cultural history rather than a scientific one, but inevitably pivots on science communication. It offers fascinating insights into how astronomy has, through planetariums, evolved over the past century from a tool for education and personal improvement to a crowd-pleasing public spectacle.’ – Nature

Star Theatre provides a masterful and well-researched examination of the architectural heritage and cultural significance of planetariums, such as the role of the Zeiss projector in fostering relations between Soviet-controlled East Germany and the rest of the world. It also contemplates how the development of planetariums has been influenced – indeed, challenged – by discoveries in astronomy such as black holes, gravitational waves and the theory of dark matter, as well as the growing capabilities of projection technology . . . includes some excellent images.’ – BBC Sky at Night Magazine

‘I am pleased to see this book, written by a distinguished architect and author. It deals not only with the modern planetarium, but with the ancient and early attempts to depict the appearances and movements of objects on the celestial sphere . . . The author tackles beautifully the complex running of planetaria, and the problems they find themselves in, especially the rivalry with cinemas, computer-generated images, and the intrusion of actors and voice-overs in shows . . . Every philosopher and educator should have this book since the sky and its behaviour is so important to humanity. The author has been thorough in his research into the history and current state of play, with the future of some planetaria so uncertain.’ – The Observatory Magazine

‘in this finely written and illustrated book William Firebrace traces “star theatres” back to a Persian king in the seventh century.’ – A Magazine

‘Firebrace’s account extends into the present day and is placed in a long genealogy of buildings and devices bearing varied religious, artistic, and epistemic connotations as regards the relationship between humans and the cosmos. This is an audacious undertaking, and Firebrace writes with panache . . . Firebrace’s book will likely prove enjoyable and informative reading for both nonexpert and scholarly audiences. As a historian of science who works in a major planetarium, I was frankly captivated by many of the illustrations, anecdotes, and literary and artistic references with which Firebrace adorns his account.’ – Isis Journal

‘William Firebrace is at once keen dragoman, critic, poet, constantly astonished spectator, and informal reporter. His curiosity is boundless.’ – Jonathan Meades

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William Firebrace is an architect and the author of Things Worth Seeing (2001), Marseille Mix (2010) and Memo for Nemo (2014). He is based in London.