January 18, 2020

Review: Starlight Nights by Leslie Peltier

An astronomy classic!

Did you know that there are oodles of books out on the web for free? And no, we’re not talking about Amazon Prime, but sites such as Project Gutenberg where stuff that’s long since been in the public domain is free to download as a pdf for off-line perusal on ye ole smart phone.

Anyhow, we finally checked an astronomy classic off of our reading list, one we’re glad that we finally got around to picking up and reading. We’d heard about Leslie Peltier’s Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Stargazer for as long as we can remember, and we recommend it to anyone who is a tried and true amateur astronomer at heart. Do you make sure that you never miss a clear night? Do you still pop out on even the most tired of evenings, sans telescope, just to check on the sky? Do you remember that thrill of your first scope as a kid? Then you definitely qualify as being bitten by the astronomy bug.

Starlight Nights follows Peltier in his own words, growing up on a farm in Delphos, Ohio in 1910. Peltier discovered a simple love of nature quietly and organically in an unstructured fashion on and around the family farm. He sent away for his first telescope, a 2-inch refractor as a teenager for the princely sum of $18, and soon began exploring the universe.

Think of Starlight Nights as Little House on the Prairie, with astronomy thrown in. of course, the book is inter-woven with lengthy purple prose, sometimes taking a chapter or two to return to the stargazing part. It’s interesting how Peltier stresses how the unstructured approachto learning allowed him to really dig deep into astronomy, something he says that kids today with their distractions with toys and television may lack. Remember, Peltier was writing this in the 1960s; what would he have made of the Ipads and endless cable channels of today?

Peltier, one of the greatest amateur and visual observers of the 20th century, passed away on May 10th, 1980 at age 80. It’s fascinating and heartening to read of his simple and often poetic approach at observing and learning his way around the night sky, a century hence. Growing up in Northern Maine, we too felt fortunate to have dark skies right on our doorstep. And on weekends when we went camping out on Third Lake in Western Maine, we’d have F-106 Starfighter jets from Loring Air Force Base doing strafing runs at treetop level by day, and inky black skies untouched by light pollution at night.

Not that we ever truly appreciated this, back in the day. Instead, we’d bemoan the boredom, an unstructured approach that, like during Peltier’s day as today, still inspires creativity and exploration.

It’s vital that, even in this age of remote scopes and DSLR imaging, that we occasionally step back from all of the screens, gear and eyepieces and simply look up.

Be sure to check out Leslie Peltier’s Starlight Nights: we sure glad that we did!

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