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285 × 229 × 28 mm
304 pages
306 illustrations, 284 in colour
10 Jun 2019

Cosmos The Art and Science of the Universe Roberta J. M. Olson, Jay M. Pasachoff

Since time immemorial, the nocturnal skies have mesmerized people, and heavenly bodies have inspired the imaginations of artists, poets, and scientists. This book showcases the superstars of the firmament and universe in sumptuous illustrations featuring paintings, sculpture, drawings, watercolours, prints, as well as plates from books, celestial diagrams, and astronomical photography.

Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe charts the human love affair with the heavens in art and astronomy, based on sound science and insightful art and cultural history. While its illustrations are thrilling and seductive, the book also recounts the fascinating story about the quest to discover the mysteries of the universe in ten lively chapters. Embellished with new information, interpretations, and amusing anecdotes, the authors weave a rich tapestry about the interconnections in the cosmos and the efforts to understand them. A stunning book that unveils the beauty of the cosmos and its compelling story.

Professors Olson and Pasachoff have been working together on the intersection of art and astronomy since the 1985-1986 passage of Halley’s Comet brought them together. They are joint authors of Fire in the Sky: Comets and Meteors, the Decisive Centuries, in British Art and Science (1998) and this book is the culmination of their decades of collaboration.

‘Featuring hundreds of beautiful illustrations, paintings, prints, and photographs, Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe explores astronomical phenomena and humans’ fascination with them throughout history, as evidenced by depictions in works of art. The book is the result of a collaboration between astronomer Jay Pasachoff and art historian Roberta Olson, who spent the past three decades collecting the images that would feature in this interdisciplinary study. Complementing the imagery is a narrative that chronicles developments in both astronomy and art over the past several millennia.’ — Physics Today

‘The pictures in this book are both absolutely stunning and superbly reproduced . . . The text is pacey, erudite, and informative and underlines the detailed, comprehensive, and impressive knowledge the authors have of the subject . . . In total the book is a great joy. I loved the way that the authors related the astronomical art to the culture, literature, and politics of the times.’ — The Observatory Magazine

‘Two handsome books encapsulate the expanse of the heavens . . . Cosmos brings together art historian Olson and astronomer Pasachoff, who have written prolifically about astronomy and the arts since 1985. They showcase a wide variety of representative artefacts, from a prehistoric medallion of bronze and gold embossed with a crude sky map to a phantasmagoric solar eclipse painting by German expressionist George Grosz to high-resolution digital renderings from NASA space missions.’ — Natural History Magazine

‘full of valuable information . . . The illustrations are superbly selected and reproduced, and cannot be praised enough . . .The book is lavish, well produced, deep in erudition, and is so well accomplished that it will be quite unnecessary for anyone, in the foreseeable future, to attempt it again, so completely and masterfully does it fulfil its niche.’ — SHA Bulletin

‘The compelling introduction in Cosmos invites examination of the connection between art and science. The volume comprises a series of richly illustrated chapters, each focused on a particular aspect of astronomy. Olson and Pasachoff devote two-thirds of the book to the sun, moon, eclipses, comets, and meteors – objects that have inspired artists in their work . . . The illustrations span millennia, which enables the authors to illuminate the fascinating morphing of astrology, the original science of the heavens, into astronomy, the current scientific view of the cosmos. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘this book is the result of a true and solid collaboration: The reader gets a balanced insight into history of science, astronomy, art history, and cultural history illustrated every step of the way. And as such they deliver on their promise . . . to show how the sciences are interconnected and can offer many perspectives on the great links between art and science. But it also
shows how deeply intertwined astronomy and art have been throughout history, and still continue to be so, moving forward.’ — Metascience

Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe is an in-depth visual look at our collective obsession with the night sky. Via art that addresses astronomy, our passion for space is traced from woodcuttings and diagrams to paintings, sculpture and satellite photography. With 306 illustrations, many in full-color, this hardcover is a celebration of celestial treasures.’ — Coolhunting.com

‘This is a beautiful book, both physically and intellectually, and a fitting sequel to their earlier classic, Fire in the Sky . . . This is lovely book to look at and to read, with fine-quality images throughout printed on art paper. It deserves to be in the library of anyone interested in the art–astronomy interface.’ — Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

‘A beautifully illustrated survey of our love affair with the heavens, as expressed in art, poetry and science.’ — Choice

‘This book is about humankind's fascination with the heavens and its attempts to understand it through art and science . . . Generously illustrated, the book's text follows developments in astronomy and Western art chronologically . . . Cosmos combines cultural history and science together in a diverse and entertaining narrative.’ — Maine Antique Digest

‘The night sky is the grandest feature of our environment. It has been shared by all humanity, throughout history, stimulating a sense of wonder and mystery. In this eloquent and beautifully illustrated book Olson and Pasachoff recount how the cosmos has inspired artists through the ages to create images that have become embedded in our culture.’ — Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

‘“What could be more beautiful than the heavens,” Copernicus asked, “which contain all beautiful things?” Roberta Olson and Jay Pasachoff offer their exuberant, elaborate endorsement of Copernicus’ sentiment in this resplendently illustrated celebration of artworks inspired by starry nights, solar eclipses, and other celestial wonders.’ — Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, and The Glass Universe

‘This book is a work of art in itself. The weaving of art and science creates partners in the journey of imagination and exploration of the Universe.’ — Jody Pinto, artist

‘Filled with awe upon completing Cosmos, I was amazed at the depth of documentation paired with pioneering content. What a remarkable feat of scholarship Olson and Pasachoff have achieved. Whether religiously motivated, scientifically oriented, or just curious, artists from all times have embraced and explored the origins of our universe. Creative higher mathematics is often geometric and therefore visual. This historic study investigates how artists have shaped their cosmic discoveries into provocative images, while it traces the complex search to understand the universe.’ — Dorothea Rockburne, artist

‘It should not be surprising that astronomical subjects pervade all manner of art through the ages, yet Cosmos amazes. Olson and Pasachoff’s well-researched and lavishly illustrated tome delightfully demonstrates that this iconography is beautifully represented in the arts throughout history.’ — Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Library Director, American Museum of Natural History

‘Olson and Pasachoff scour the cosmos of the arts for images of the heavens and show not only what the universe is, but what it means in this marvel of a book. With one surprising variation on a theme after another, every page is a revelation of the visual impact of the sky.’ — E.C. Krupp, Director, Griffith Observatory

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Roberta J. M. Olson is Curator of Drawings at the New-York Historical Society and Professor Emeritus of Art History at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She is the author of Fire and Ice: A History of Comets in Art (1985).

Jay M. Pasachoff is Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts and co-author of Cosmos (Reaktion Books, 2019) and The Sun (Reaktion Books, 2017)


1 Astronomy: The Personification and the Practice
2 The Mechanics of the Cosmos:
Star Maps, Constellations and Globes
3 The Sun and Solar Eclipses
4 Earth’s Moon and Lunar Eclipses
5 Comets: ‘Wandering Stars’
6 Meteors, Bolides and Meteor Showers
7 Primordial Matter of the Big Bang: Novae, Nebulae and Galaxies
8 The Planets of the Solar System
9 The Aurora Borealis: Magnetic Celestial Fireworks
10 New Horizons in the Cosmos: Photographs of Space

Conclusion: Infinity
Select Bibliography and Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements