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August 2018

Observing The Observers

Observers Books

Popular price
Suitable for carrying in the pocket
Accurate pictures

Is on the flyleaf of the first Observers series books. Sums it all up in a nutshell. I used to carry my 1965 copy of The Observers Book of Churches in my jacket pocket, so when I looked round a church I knew what I was observing.

the publishers Frederick Warne published the first book in the series The Observers Book of Birds in 1937, closely followed the same year by The Observers Book of Wild Flowers. The Observers Book series was born. By 1941 there were six books in the series.

In 1942 a special edition book was published on Airplanes to help people spot enemy aircraft, but this book doesn’t have a number in the series. On the other hand book 86 on Country Houses was commissioned but never published.

Book 99 is The Observers Book of Observers Books. It was reprinted five times so there’s obviously quite a big interest in the series, which was brought up to a nice round 100 by The Observers Book of Wayside and Woodland.

The books have had several design changes over the years, and my 1993 copy of Observers Castles (note that “Book of” has gone from the title) is a hardback book with a glossy cover but no dust jacket, that requires a slightly larger pocket. It was published by Bloomsbury Books under license from Penguin Books, who now own Frederick Warne.

The series number is gone. The book is copyrighted Frederick Warne 1979 and 1986, so I think it’s essentially the same as the original book. As far as I can tell the series isn’t available new, so it’s off to the used book shops with you, if you want to try one.

Many variations have been published over the years, and some rare ones are quite valuable. I thought for a while while researching this post that my Observers Book of Old Churches was worth quite a lot of money, but it’s not one of the very rare 1969 ones with the laminated cover.

I was quite relieved, since while it lived in my pocket it hadn’t been getting the best of care. It’s worth the £3.50 I paid for it, rather than £100 or more! I had been looking after the slightly fragile original dust jacket, though; I kept the jacket at home and made a plain card replacement to protect the book. I shall be carrying it again now, as I’ll be looking round the occasional church for my North Bucks Wanderer blog.

I will be writing posts about some of the books in the series, and I’ve already written about the Observers Book of Astronomy.

The Observers Books, published originally by Frederick Warne

Call For Books

Today I’m going to talk to you about telephone boxes. Nothing to do with books? Well, years ago there used to be telephone directories in phone boxes, but I’m not talking about them.

But these two old telephone kiosks in a couple of Bedfordshire villages are to do with books, because they’ve been converted into mini libraries. Neither village had a library, so their parish councils stepped forward.

WoburnWoburn phone box library

Continue reading "Call For Books" »

My Bird Hangs on in Fright, but it’s Just For Kicks

Regular readers will remember I wrote about Chester Dowling’s first book Just For Kicks, The Story of My Life back in May. As well as being Chester’s autobiography and a most entertaining read it’s a fine work of English social history.

When I wrote that post, it was thought by Chester’s family (he passed away in 2017) that the first book was sold out, but later they found a few unsold copies. Recently I talked to his daughter Lizzie, who told me that there were only about ten copies left, which are for sale at £100 each. If you go to the Just For Kicks website and email from there, you might still be able to pick up a copy.

Just For Kicks two booksThis might be slightly NSFW if you click on it for a bigger version.

The Fifth Book
After Chester passed away, an almost complete Just For Kicks book was found on his computer.

Continue reading "My Bird Hangs on in Fright, but it’s Just For Kicks" »

Patrick Moore speaks

Observer's Astronomy

This is the first in an occasional series about The Observer’s Book series.

My 1964 copy of The Observer’s Book of Astronomy hasn’t had a dust jacket for a long time; the spine is faded, the front and back boards are a bit grubby. The author’s name isn’t on the cover, but look inside at the title page and there’s a name most of will recognise: Patrick Moore. Who else could it be?

There aren’t many astronomers whose names most people instantly recognise, but Sir Patrick Moore, (he was knighted in 2001) is certainly one. As the presenter of BBC TV’s The Sky at Night he did much to make astronomy more popular. He presented the programme from 1957 until shortly before his death at the end of 2012.

Every time I read this book, I can hear him speaking in his usual rapid-fire way; it makes me read more quickly so I can keep up. See if you find the same:

        “The Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite. It is a very minor body, but its closeness to us makes it appear far more splendid than any object in the sky apart from the sun, and we tend to imagine that it is much more important than is really the case. Its diameter is 2,160 miles, and its average distance from the Earth is slightly less than 239,000 miles”

See what I mean?

Observer's Astronomy Patrick Moore Lunar eclipse

Here’s another excerpt:

        “On a winter evening Orion may be seen in the south, his pattern quite unmistakable both because of its distinctive shape and because of the brilliance of its stars. From it we may find not only Sirius but also many important groups such as Taurus (the bull), Gemini (the Twins) and Auriga (the charioteer or wagoner). Capella, in Auriga, is almost directly overhead.

Observer's Astronomy by Patrick Moore. Orion

His enthusiasm shines through and while there’s lots of information crammed into each paragraph, it is presented in a clear and simple style that makes me want to know more. This book is written for the beginner and It’s a great introduction to the night sky.

Amongst the plates showing the solar system and further away objects, there’s a picture of the Sputnik satellite, and a telescope on the cheap and nasty pillar and claw stand; this type of stand is “virtually useless” and “unsteady as a jelly” advised Patrick Moore. A sturdy tripod is much better.

The endpapers show a map of the heavens, with the main constellations shown. The book comes, as the title page says:

“With 64 plates
in colour and black and white
including 16 specially drawn
by L. F. BALL”

This is an interesting and entertaining book, and it doesn’t matter that what we know about the universe, and that the equipment we can now use to observe it has moved on; much of the advice and information is still perfectly sound.

The Observer's Book of Astronomy, by Patrick Moore.