• Starlight Detectives

  • How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe
  • By: Alan Hirshfeld
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 13 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 12-09-14
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • 4 out of 5 stars (206 ratings)

Regular price: $24.95

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free.
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price.
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love.
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel.
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month.
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

In 1929, Edwin Hubble announced the greatest discovery in the history of astronomy since Galileo first turned a telescope to the heavens. The galaxies, previously believed to float serenely in the void, are in fact hurtling apart at an incredible speed: the universe is expanding. This stunning discovery was the culmination of a decades-long arc of scientific and technical advancement. In its shadow lies an untold, yet equally fascinating, backstory whose cast of characters illuminates the gritty, hard-won nature of scientific progress.

The path to a broader mode of cosmic observation was blazed by a cadre of 19th-century amateur astronomers and inventors, galvanized by the advent of photography, spectral analysis, and innovative technology to create the entirely new field of astrophysics. From William Bond, who turned his home into a functional observatory, to John and Henry Draper, a father and son team who were trailblazers of astrophotography and spectroscopy, to geniuses of invention such as Lon Foucault and George Hale, who founded the Mount Wilson Observatory, Hirshfeld reveals the incredible stories and the ambitious dreamers behind the birth of modern astronomy.

©2014 Alan Hirshfeld (P)2014 Audible Inc.

Critic Reviews

"A masterful balance of science, history and rich narrative." (Discover magazine)
"Hirshfeld tells this climactic discovery of the expanding universe with great verve and sweep, as befits a story whose scope, characters and import leave most fiction far behind." (Wall Street Journal)
"Starlight Detectives is just the sort of richly veined book I love to read full of scientific history and discoveries, peopled by real heroes and rogues, and told with absolute authority. Alan Hirshfeld's wide, deep knowledge of astronomy arises not only from the most careful scholarship, but also from the years he's spent at the telescope, posing his own questions to the stars" (Dava Sobel, author of A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos and Longitude)

More from the same

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    76
  • 4 Stars
    77
  • 3 Stars
    37
  • 2 Stars
    13
  • 1 Stars
    3

Performance

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    84
  • 4 Stars
    64
  • 3 Stars
    30
  • 2 Stars
    7
  • 1 Stars
    4

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    70
  • 4 Stars
    78
  • 3 Stars
    28
  • 2 Stars
    10
  • 1 Stars
    2
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Experience the discovery of most of the universe.

Extraordinarily well written!! Perfect balance of technical and human storytelling. A must read for anyone interested in astronomy. Easily read and enjoyed by non-technical savy y listeners.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Telescopes, cameras and Spectographs

What made the experience of listening to Starlight Detectives the most enjoyable?

I found the history of the characters behind the evolution of the telescope and the camera the most interesting. Although the story behind the spectrograph was surprisingly well told. The reader is perfect.

What other book might you compare Starlight Detectives to and why?

Longitude

Which scene was your favorite?

Louis Daguerre and the invention of the camera. The history behind the modern and old observatories.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

13 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Well structured, but not the easiest to listen to

There is difficulty in this genre - the book jumps in time all the time to narrate different lines of the complex intervined history of invention and discovery. This keeps you on your toes when listening, but this is probably the best way to represent those kind of information

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

very interesting

A week written and well read account of the history of astrophysics. As an amateur astronomer of many decades I found it fascinating to read about the struggles of pioneers in celestial photography in particular.

12 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent and very Readable History of Astronomy

Finally a book which tells us of the personalities behind these great discoveries. Very, very well done.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Pamela
  • Bigfork, Montana
  • 11-14-17

A story of imaging stars

This is not my favorite book on discovering the skies. It is jam packed full of information, with so many characters, I could not develop a clear sense of any of them.

The story is really more about the improvements in imaging the universe than of the discoveries themselves. There is more than I ever imagined about the competitive approaches to photographing through telescopes. (I use the word photographing generically - I know that it not inclusive, as is exhaustively discussed in this book). I was surprised at the resistance to using anything other than the human eye to document what has been seen in the skies.

Astronomy and astrophysics have always drawn my curiosity and sense of discovery, but this book, sadly did not take me on that journey.

As noted in other reviews, Joe Barrett is a fine narrator but not the best for this book. His skills are probably better suited for fiction.

For something more comprehensible in an audiobook, try anything by Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson or look at the highest rated books in the astronomy category. This one is a bit of a snooze that should probably be left for those with a special interest in its narrow focus.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Very well done, but not for the casual listener

What I had hoped for was a short history of astronomy written for the layperson. But what I found instead was a book that goes into a textbook level of detail---one whose target audience would be those working or studying in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics.

Most of the book's focus is on the 1800s. Of the 13+ hours, perhaps a half-hour or so of it delves into the early 1900s, and that's where it ends. I found that disappointing, as my primary interest was in learning about advancements from the 1900s to present.

None of this should be deemed as a critique of this well written book. They're simply observations to help readers determine whether or not this is what they're looking for.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Highly recommended

This book is a great listen for anyone interested in astronomy. Most of the book is spent on an account of the transition of astronomy from an amateur hobby in the 19th century to a professional and rigorous scientifically field, culminating in Edwin Hubble's work at Mount Wilson Observatory to establish that spiral nebulae are galaxies well outside our own that are speeding away from us at a rate that increases with their distance to us. It gives some very interesting historical perspective on many current active fields of research in astrophysics, such as dark matter and energy.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting history especially the Hale and Hubble

A bit dry at times but charming none the less. I wish there was more to the early history.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

interesting history of astronomy

This book gives a very detailed history of astronomy, including photography of celestial objects, spectroscopy, to the discoveries of Hubble and Einstein. The book goes into too much detail at times, but covers each astronomer well along with colleagues and enemies. The reader does an excellent job.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • @deftly_admiral
  • 03-16-18

Good stories let down by ghastly narration.

What did you like best about Starlight Detectives? What did you like least?

Human stories are interesting and engaging. The technical aspects of telescopes are reasonably covered, and I would like to have heard more about the astrophysics that was discovered.

The narration is the worst I have ever heard on any audiobook.

What didn’t you like about Joe Barrett’s performance?

Breathless delivery, all throat and croaking, trying to insert passion into the wrong parts of sentences, which he only partially understands.

Just when you have managed to ignore the incessant breathiness and concentrate on the story, the narrator starts trying what he believes are accents.

My god, the accents.

It is difficult to listen to the letters of an English astronomer when they are voiced by someone apparently doing an impression of Dick van Dyke who has picked up vowels from Yorkshire, Memphis and Mumbai.