Book review: "Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse"

By Michael Zeiler

Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse by Michael E. Bakich

Springer International Publishing, 2016, ISBN 978-3-319-27630-4, 395 pages


This guide is an excellent beginner’s introduction to total solar eclipses in general as well as the coming Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. Michael Bakich, a long-time editor of Astronomy Magazine and veteran eclipse chaser, is a natural storyteller and has the gift of explaining eclipses in an accessible way to the American public. To get a flavor of Michael’s engaging writer's voice, listen to some of his podcasts on the coming eclipse at

The book begins on the topic of “What’s All the Fuss About?”. He clearly covers the basics of the different types of eclipses and leads the reader to the punchline of “It’s all about totality”. He makes the case that this is the peak celestial sight that anyone can and should try to experience.

Michael describes the fascinating history of past eclipses from early civilizations to the present day. He shares many images and quotes from his extensive collection of eclipse books and ephemera. I appreciated the extensive quotes from the 19th century eclipse enthusiast Mabel Loomis Todd, a gifted writer on the majesty of the total eclipse of the Sun.

There is proper attention to the importance of safely viewing the partial phases of a solar eclipse and Michael successfully walks the tightrope of giving sound advice on safe viewing of the partial phases of eclipse along with the guidance of when and how to view the glory of the Sun’s corona during totality.

The book includes a surprisingly comprehensive section on the selection of suitable binoculars and telescopes that is applicable to all types of astronomy as well as eclipses. For those who choose to photograph the eclipse - and Michael gives the correct guidance for most first timers to simply watch the eclipse - he gives practical instructions to get amazing photographs of the eclipse.

An ingenious chapter describes a number of projection viewers and simple science experiments that can be done during the eclipse. I especially enjoyed the camera caddy project and may build one myself for managing my multiple cameras. The reader also learns about the phenomena of the eclipse and tips for watching sights such as the rushing umbra, shadow bands, and the diamond ring.

An excellent chapter on community organizing in the book is written by Kate Russo. Communities in the path of the 2017 eclipse are in the dark about what to expect and Kate gives her expertise gained from several prior eclipses as well as her professional background in psychology. The book concludes with a narrative on the importance of weather awareness and a selection of great spots to view the eclipse.

I found the illustrations in the book to be first rate. They are very clear and well rendered by Roen Kelly and Holley Bakich and match the quality of illustrations in Astronomy Magazine. My only minor criticism is that I would have liked to have seen more detail in the eclipse maps, but I’m naturally biased towards a map-centric presentation.

Michael is also applying his expertise to what just might be the largest single astronomical gathering in history at an airport in St. Joseph, Missouri. See for details.

This book by engages the reader with clear and reliable explanations leavened with a dash of humor. Highly recommended for first-time eclipse observers!