Sunday, February 5, 2012

Leslie Peltier's Starlight Nights Is A Work Of Quiet Genius


Let's just call this book what it is: A rare masterpiece. STARLIGHT NIGHTS was never destined to be a best seller, but it will enjoy permanent cult status among a small audience of sensative people who love the stars, love nature -- and perhaps a certain segment of society who will pine forever for a slice of American rural life that is permanently lost.

I hope it is not over-the-top to say that people may find reading LESLIE PELTIER'S ode to the stars a religious experience. This book will have a profound effect on those lucky few attuned to a more sensative mode of existence, those who are able to see the incredible beauty is something as small as a wildflower or insect, or as grand as a night sky paved with glittering stars.

This is the story of a guy born in 1900 near the small town of Delphos, Ohio, and his life growing up on the farm, where early on he developed a love affair with stars and telescopes. Peltier gets zapped at an early age with the spectacular appearance of a stunnning comet, known only as 1910a because it was the first comet discovered that year. It had to play second fiddle, however, because 1910a was also the year of Halley's Comet famous return.

Peltier also describes being transfixed by the Pleiades which he spotted through the window of their rural farm house as a small boy -- this was in the day before every farm had a yardlight, and before the light pollution of surrounding cities began to blot out the beauty of the night sky. It begans a life long journey of amateur astronomy, during which Peltier discovered 12 comets, made thousands of variable star observations, built observatories, and eventually came to be known as "the world's greatest amateur astronomer."

I purchased Starlight Nights some 40 years ago when I was 12 years old. I found it in a large box of used books that were being sold off in a clothing store. While I waited for my mother to shop, I mined through the book bin and grabbed Starlight Nights -- it was 50 cents. Wow! I still marvel to think about it! I didn't know it yet, but 50 cents and a secondhand book was about to change my life forever!

Over the past four decades, I have read Starlight Nights perhaps 20 times. Of the thousands of books I have read across the years, I can't think of one that has affected me more profoundly than has this rare jewel in the starry pantheon of astronomical literature.

Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58

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