Actual size of book: over 10" x 14"; weighs nearly 5 pounds.

Number One Bestseller in Massachusetts

A New Scientist Bestseller

Now in its Fourth Printing


Good Reviews: 17

Bad Reviews: 0

Read an Excerpt from MAGNIFICENT UNIVERSE!


The awesome wonder of the cosmos has inspired the human imagination for millennia: what we learn about the cosmos tells us not just where we are, but who we are. And now, at the turn of this millennium, thanks to science and technology that were unimaginable only a century ago, a rich new portrait of our universe has emerged.

Magnificent Universe is the most complete, authoritative, and lavish celebration of the heavens ever created. No other book approaches its range of photographs, produced with uncompromising quality on a majestic scale. With more than one hundred full-color portraits, Magnificent Universe allows you to experience for yourself the beauty of the planets, moons, comets, constellations, stellar nurseries, red giants, supernovae, spiral galaxies, and quasars--all the way to the edge of space and time.

Harvard-trained astronomer Ken Croswell stunned readers around the world with his previous book, Planet Quest, which Sir John Maddox called "a thrilling account of the discovery of planets in the solar system and elsewhere that stands out for its human interest and its accuracy." Now, after years of meticulous research, Dr. Croswell has brought together outstanding photographs from leading observatories around the world as well as from an armada of interplanetary spacecraft. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope have been digitally reprocessed to create a degree of definition never seen before. With these superb photographs, he guides us through lucidly organized chapters on the planets, the stars, the galaxies, and the universe. Unique color-coded tables on the planets, moons, brightest stars, nearest stars, and Local Group galaxies appear in a useful reference section, along with a glossary and suggestions for further reading.

Magnificent Universe catapults you through the vistas of space that future generations will explore. It is a landmark in the scientific visualization of the cosmos--one that will surely inspire artists, philosophers, and adventurers of the next century.

"This landmark book by Ken Croswell is a remarkable achievement. It brings the awesome beauty of modern astronomy out of the technical tomes and into the public realm. Ken Croswell himself maintains his reputation here as an equally awesome writer. He is a public treasure."
--Allan Sandage

"With prose as evocative as these majestic celestial portraits, Ken Croswell has painted word pictures that bring to life these extraordinary images from space. From our most precious blue planet to the ancient, infant galaxies at the fringes of the observable universe, this awesome tour can't fail to expand our horizons and inspire our imaginations. This is clearly the best cosmic photo album in recent memory."
--Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"Ken Croswell's lyrical prose and the artfully chosen array of stunning images create an informative and compelling tour through the cosmos."
--Brian Greene, Columbia University, author of The Elegant Universe

"Croswell takes us on an intriguing astronomical tour by presenting detailed views of the cosmos as seen through the four windows of astrophysics: planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. The spectacular images make this book truly magnificent."
--Fred Adams, University of Michigan, coauthor of The Five Ages of the Universe

"A dazzling visual and intellectual journey. The combination of awe-inspiring imagery and Croswell's authoritative and graceful writing will leave readers feeling privileged to inhabit such a stunning, vast, and varied cosmos."
--David Grinspoon, University of Colorado, author of Venus Revealed

"This book is a glorious visual feast!"
--Michael Liu, University of California at Berkeley


The Washington Post:

Magnificent Universe by Ken Croswell is elegant and eloquent. With more than a hundred glossy, sharp full-color "portraits," it starts with the Sun's family of planets, including Earth, and works outward to distant galaxies. Among the highlights are pictures of Jupiter's volcanically active moon Io looking like an abused grapefruit; dazzling designs painted by dying stars; the aqua and gold pinwheel of galaxy NGC 1232, the galaxies Dwingeloo 1 and the amazing Sombrero; and the "bull's-eye" pattern created when one galaxy dove through the center of another. There is a tribute to the Milky Way, Earth's home galaxy, and there is the famous Hubble image of the glowing "towers" in the Eagle Nebula.

The lyrical text by Harvard-trained astronomer Croswell offers deft summaries and useful tidbits: "If Earth is an inch from the Sun, Pluto is forty inches. A light-year is a mile." Regarding Mars, he explains, the planet is ruddy for the same reason blood is. And in a description of a neutron star, he notes, the gravity is so powerful that if you dropped a pebble from a height of four feet, it would smash into the surface at 5 million mph.

Croswell also provides a brief, jargon-free account of current thinking on the origins, evolution, and fate of the universe, and traces the cascade of events by which, "with the emergence of life...part of the material world began to think."
--Kathy Sawyer

The London Daily Mail:

Any album of photographs of the glorious inhabitants of space can hardly avoid being stunning, but what differentiates this one from all its predecessors is the lyrical writing which accompanies the pictures. This is not just a bonus; it is a necessity.

One of the difficulties with science books aimed at a general readership is that, astounding though they often are, they leave no room for interpretation. We are presented with facts and that is that. By contrast, Dr. Croswell has woven a luminous thread to link these magnificent images and, in so doing, reveals a space which we feel able to inhabit and appreciate for ourselves.

So out go the tired metaphors. No longer are we lost in a vast universe somewhere on the outskirts of a not very special galaxy, on a planet circling round an average star. The universe may be big, but shrink our Galaxy to the size of the full-stop at the end of this sentence and the universe would just about fill your living room.

Our Galaxy is far from average. It is unusually large, big enough to allow several generations of stars to be born and die and, in doing so, give birth to all the atoms of which we are made.

The Sun is not an ordinary star, stars dimmer than the Sun far outnumber those that are brighter, and as for the Earth, of all the scorched or frozen, arid, and pock-marked planets that encircle the Sun, ours is the only one warm and moist enough to support life.

Looking out into space with a powerful telescope is like working on an archaeological dig. The deeper you delve, the further you go back in time. Light travels fast, but not infinitely fast. It takes time to reach us. We see the Moon as it was a second ago; the Sun as it was eight minutes ago. But some of the images in this book are of galaxies whose light has taken billions of years to reach us, so we are seeing them comparatively soon after the universe was born.

As far as we can tell, 20 billion years ago there was absolutely nothing. Not even empty space. Then, between 10 and 15 billion years ago, space erupted into being in a cataclysmic explosion. Eventually, matter became so compressed that it ignited, turning the galaxies into vast cities of a thousand million stars, images of which are one of the chief glories of this book.

Magnificent Universe tells and illustrates this story exquisitively. As Croswell says, "life is the universe's most astonishing achievement," if only because now that man is here, the beautiful but unfeeling, unseeing cosmos has at last become aware of its own existence.
--Laurie John

Whole Earth:

Oh my God! The universe displayed. Magnitude and majesty beyond belief. Of all the books collecting snapshots of the viewable universe, this one has the best portfolio of heavenly objects.
--Kevin Kelly

The Irish Astronomical Journal:

Croswell has a success story in astronomy writing. Anyone reading his The Alchemy of the Heavens will know the reason. This book, however, is not a book; it is a picture gallery, and a beautiful one. The format is large and the production immaculate. Price-wise, it is rather expensive and picture galleries in astronomy are extremely competitive. The reviewer doubts whether a better collection of images exists anywhere.

Astronomy Now:

Magnificent Universe must surely be one of the most desirable books to be published on astronomy in recent years. I must admit it is expensive, but in this case the old adage "You get what you pay for" has never been truer. Almost every page of this large format book contains some of the most spectacular images taken by many of the various probes and satellites that pry information out of our planet neighbours and out to the farthest depths of the universe. Bringing them together in a single publication provides a treasure chest of astronomical delights that will be referred to over and over again.

In addition, Ken Croswell's well-written accompanying text provides an enormous amount of interesting information that will thrill even the most well-read amateur astronomer. His explanations of virtually every type of astronomical object and concept are crystal clear and will be understood by all.

Unusually informative lists and tables are provided at the end of the book.
--Clive Down

American Way:

Although the photographs of space in this coffee-table book are majestic in scale, their clarity and brilliance make nebulae, comets, planets, and moons seem quite intimate. Croswell's text puts the images in perspective, offering interesting, accessible information about the inconceivable size of the universe and the tiny, fascinating part of it we're able to observe.

Sky and Telescope:

Coffee-table-book nirvana....Magnificent Universe by Ken Croswell is a high-quality, albeit pricey, hefty, large-format, coffee-table book that can add a touch of class to any home. Portable it isn't, unless you're into bodybuilding....

[The book] is organized in a straightforward, four-part, hierarchical manner going from the planets through the stars, then galaxies, then the universe. Its images show a great variety because they include the solar system and because of the great variety of sources: NASA, national observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, and many individuals, including the Anglo-Australian Observatory's David Malin.

The writing is clear and clean. Text and image pages alike are all black. A downside to that is that you may wish to wash your hands before you page through the volume, because fingerprints are easily left behind. The dark background with the Arial font in white and the occasional tinted type give the book an appealing and modern look. Such highlighted text succeeds in its purpose to pull the reader in, such as the heading on page 181: "The Universe That Dared to Dream."

The book presents a wonderful treat for the eye. For example, Hubble's view of Centaurus A, seen so large in Magnificent Universe, is breathtaking and mesmerizing, as is that famous surreal shot of the irradiated pillar-shaped Bok globules in the Eagle Nebula (M16). Unlike museum exhibits that show much and say little, the book adds nice dollops of text to increase one's appreciation of the vistas. For example, the write-up on Pluto is quite nice, featuring a brief, non-opinionated mention of the controversy about its classification as a planet. Croswell's comparison of Pluto with Neptune's moon Triton is both interesting and informative, in the process enlightening us regarding their origins. The addition of one little word--"thin"--in the discussion of their atmospheres would have added to the reader's visualization of these small, distant, and cold worlds.

The final section of Magnificent Universe about the universe is mostly text. But where's the famous image of the minute fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation from the COBE spacecraft?

The tables at the end are delightfully colorful and, it turns out, the colors are meaningfully applied as well. The line for each planet and star in the tables is colored in the star's or planet's true color, though more intensely....

This book exhibits class and offers the universe with impressive large images. With its variety of sources, Magnificent Universe is a more comprehensive offering with appeal to the astronomer and layperson alike....As a proselytizer for science and astronomy, I certainly feel that any commercial success of this beautiful and thoughtful book will spread the cosmic perspective, and I wish it well.
Gary Mechler

Madison Magazine:

Heavenly reading: For those who think a telescope's primary use is for spying on neighbors, Magnificent Universe offers a (sorely needed) new perspective. A richly illustrated primer on the structure of the cosmos, Ken Croswell's coffee-table book includes over a hundred pictures culled from a variety of observatories and space missions.

New Scientist:

Do we need yet another book of images from Hubble? The answer is a resounding yes....A top-notch Christmas present for your family astronomer.

Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada:

My first impression of this book was that it was yet another, pretty, coffee table book with the usual collection of repeated astronomy prints. The dust cover praise for the book, however, hinted at a difference. Most of the comments on the back and in the fold edges praise the book's text, as well as its pictures. I found that somewhat unusual, and yet, as I was to discover, well deserved.

The book uses the normal "here to there" approach of introductory astronomy, first exploring the planets of our solar system, then moving on to the components of our Galaxy, then outward to extragalactic matters and the rest of the universe. That is common enough. After the first few pages, however, I began to see a difference. I was turning the pages, and concentrating on the text! In some cases I found myself looking back to see what the previous page's photograph had been, which is most unusual for me. I had expected the rather bland and predictable descriptive comments about each image, but as I read, I found myself immersed in a concise, colourful examination of the cosmos. Not only were the important facts well laid out, but the text was also nicely sprinkled with interesting tidbits--you know, those odd little facts that lecturers crave for holding students' interest. For example, did you know that a pebble, dropped from waist height onto the surface of a white dwarf, will impact at 4000 miles per hour, or that the same pebble dropped from the same height onto a neutron star would impact at 5 million miles per hour?

Such attention to quality, with such well thought out and complete text, sets Croswell's book apart from many of the other books of the same format I have browsed through. Indeed, the text of the book would be able to stand on its own as a layperson's guide to the current science of astronomy. Well done!

The images are also impressive. After all, this is a coffee table book with lots of pretty pictures, right? You bet it is. There is a good selection of the best Hubble Space Telescope images of the last few years, impressive images from many of the major observatories, as well as the best space probe images of the worlds of our solar system. Each image has its own page, and is scaled to deliver maximum impact in this large format book. The paper is of high quality, with a semi-satin finish, framing the glossy photographs. It is a beautiful combination.

I suppose I should find something to criticize. For example, I can point out that some of the images, such as the image of the Trifid Nebula on page 60, have the common problem of over-saturated colour. It is not as bad as in some images I have seen, but I would have turned down the saturation a bit nevertheless. I suppose it is a very subjective thing.

One other item is somewhat annoying. Since I do a lot of reading in bed, I found it to be almost impossible to get comfortable with the book in that location because of its large format. It is simply too large to lie back and read! Nevertheless, Croswell is to be congratulated for an excellent book that I highly recommend to anybody looking for a pleasant and informative read, as well as a beautiful showpiece for the coffee table.
--Doug Pitcairn

Science News:

The stunning, museum-like tour of the universe described in this book begins in our Milky Way and extends across 12 billion light-years to the edge of the observable universe. The account benefits not only from the keen insight of Croswell, a prominent astronomer, but also from an impressive array of images generated by the world's top observatories and a host of interplanetary spacecraft. Oversized color pictures reveal the orange deserts of Mars, the radiant colors of dozens of nebulae, and a star-spawning collision of two galaxies. Along the way, Croswell tenders the basic principles behind black holes, quasars, and supernovae, as well as the looming controversies dogging the field.


Croswell begins his universal tour at the heart of the Sun and expands outward to hot, tiny Mercury, toxic Venus, emerald Earth, and red, war-mongerng Mars. Out beyond icy, dark Pluto the cruiser expands more rapidly, until soon we're big enough to view the whole Milky Way with ease. There, floating before us, within the ship itself, is our very own magnificent spiral galaxy, 120,000 light-years wide and only 2,000 light-years flat, chock full of billions of stars, many of which may be similar enough to our Sun to host planets similar enough to our Earth to host lives similar enough to our own to dissipate some of the intrinsic loneliness of the universe. Rub our Galaxy between your palms. Set it on your knee. Take a closer look.

In the middle of the Milky Way is an enormous black hole, millions of times more massive than our Sun and so dense that its gravity sucks everything, even light, into its impenetrable core. Dense clusters of stars and gas orbit rapidly and closely around this black hole. Our Sun is far from this center, about halfway to the Milky Way's outer edge.

The cruiser continues inflating until we take in all the galaxies in our immediate neighborhood, collectively known as the Local Group. Among these is the bright galaxy of Andromeda, the only one of the three dozen or so galaxies in the Local Group that shines brighter than the Milky Way itself. Both the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies have smaller, orbiting satellite galaxies. Onward and outward, we swallow up other galactic groups and clusters, nebulous clouds of gas and dust, compact neutron stars, supernovae, supergiants, black holes.

Finally, we extend toward the edges of the visible universe. Here we witness the quasars, galactic centers that can radiate a trillion times more brightly than our Sun. And far beyond the quasars is the very beginning of the universe itself. This is because our journey has been less a trip across vast distances than a trip back through time. Quasars, for example, were common at the early stages of the universe's life. Because the light they emit takes billions of years to reach the Earth, these quasars, and other distant cosmic bodies, probably don't even exist anymore.

Almost everything we know about our universe was discovered in the last 100 years. Almost every one of the stunning pictures in this book was made in the last 20 years. Our collective consciousness is expanding outward toward the limits of both space and time. It's an exciting time to be alive.

Ken Croswell is a Harvard-trained astronomer whose books The Alchemy of the Heavens and Planet Quest have been huge international successes. In Magnificent Universe, he has compiled images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Voyager, Galileo, and Viking, as well as the telescopes of astronomers and observatories over our tiny Earth, and combined them together with a simple, yet comprehensive, explanatory text outlining humanity's current knowledge of the cosmos.

The book is lavish and expensive, but then I've never experienced anything, celluloid documentary or otherwise, that succeeds so completely in making such a grand sweeping tour of the known universe.--Steven Robert Allen


Croswell, author of Planet Quest, moves outward from our solar system to stars, galaxies, and the universe itself, but well over half the book focuses on stars and galaxies. Thus, readers will find thorough explanations of star spots and star clusters, the event horizon, and galactic empires. He includes images from a number of sources and closes with a thoughtful discussion of the cosmological questions the study of astronomy inevitably raises. A glossary and suggested further reading are appended, along with five tables of data on our neighboring planets, moons, stars, and Local Group galaxies.
--Mary Carroll

The Observatory:

The pictures...are magnificent and reflect a universe barely conceivable in the black-and-white images of even twenty years ago. To see this just look at the two pictures of the Antennae galaxies in Croswell's book, with the HST images alongside a monochrome photo from a ground-based telescope.
--Robert Argyle

Journal of the British Astronomical Association:

Magnificent Universe is hard to resist. It is a large format (35 x 26 cm) glossy volume stuffed with many of the best modern images of our universe, compiled by one of the most persuasive writers in the field of astronomy today. Dr. Ken Croswell has been writing popular articles on astronomy for many years and combines an enviable clarity of style with a real ability to convey the beauty and awe of the heavens. In this book, he outlines our understanding of the universe at the end of the 20th century without attempting any detailed technological explanations, and only hinting at some of the more contentious issues.

The large page sizes are used to splendid effect. Most pictures occupy a whole page, with a few filling a double page spread, where the quality binding allows the image to be displayed flat and with minimal distraction from the spine. Very many of the illustrations are free of text, thus gaining more impact, the captions being listed on a page, or several pages, in advance. This was only a minor inconvenience and a worthwhile trade-off, causing no confusion of identity. All the pages are glossy black, and the reader is advised to wash all traces of grease from the hands before flipping the pages or fingerprints will remain. Not all the images are those generated by Voyager, Malin, and the Hubble Space Telescope; there is a liberal smattering of superb and evocative shots from well-known imagers such as Akira Fujii, Tony and Daphne Hallas, Bill and Sally Fletcher, and paintings by Michael Carroll.

The book begins its journey within the solar system, briefly looking at the known astronomical objects of the Sun's empire, with a short description of each, and generally allowing one image per object. These are up-to-date with images of comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, and Galileo mission images of Jovian Galilean moons. The next step is out to the stars and nebulae of our Milky Way Galaxy. Croswell begins with a description of the interstellar medium, then starbirth. The lives of stars and the reasons for their properties are skilfully described in a most accessible way, with reference to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and basic astrophysics of the stars. The beauty and drama of star death is then covered, before a review of double stars, and open and globular clusters.

The next two chapters look at galaxies beyond our own (and very splendid they look too in such a generous display), and the universe in a cosmological sense. This last chapter is the most sparsely illustrated, but shows Croswell's writing art at its best, with a survey of the "Big Issues" in cosmology discussed in a non-technical way. For the interested newcomer to cosmology, this is an excellent place to start.

The end of the book contains tables giving data about planets and their moons, the brightest and nearest stars, Local Group galaxies, a glossary of terms, and a list of books for further reading, before the illustration credits.

For whom is Magnificent Universe written? Everyone, surely, who has any glimmer of interest in astronomy. The newcomer will find an easily understood overview of the cosmos; the "old hand" can marvel at the images so richly offered and enjoy Ken Croswell's skilful story.
--Nick Hewitt

Publishers Weekly:

With an impressive constellation of pictures (including computer-enhanced images from the Hubble Space Telescope), Croswell takes readers on an introductory tour of the celestial spaces and places that interest astronomers, from Earth and its neighboring planets, to nearby stars and the interstellar medium, to the limits of the observable universe (which turn out to be 15 billion light-years from Earth). Croswell's summaries of astronomical and cosmological knowledge make clear if very compact introductions to these subjects, fit to accompany the magnificent images, and divide into four segments: "The Planets," "The Stars," "The Galaxies," and "The Universe." Potent photographs alternate with memorable facts: explaining that sunspots arise from magnetic fields on the Sun, Croswell stops to note that, for much of the 17th century, there simply were no sunspots; as a result, the Sun faded and the Earth cooled. Near the end of his last chapter, Croswell tells us why the universe will probably go on expanding and cooling down forever: though there's plenty of "dark" (undetectable) matter between stars (dark matter's gravity holds galaxies together), there'd have to be five times as much as there probably is for expansion to someday halt. Over a hundred spectacular photographs show, rather than tell, readers exactly why kids grow up to be astronomers. Some images come from NASA spacecraft, including Viking and Voyager. Appended tables supply vital statistics on, for example, the diminutive moons of Uranus, and the size and age of the best-known stars.


In Magnificent Universe, astronomy writer Ken Croswell reveals the beautiful and exotic. He details the denizens of our solar system including the often neglected Earth and her Moon. Croswell also explores the members of our Galaxy, including stars, stellar remnants, and the interstellar medium. He then journeys to the realm outside the Milky Way by examining galaxy shapes, clustering, and collisions.

The final chapter discusses our current understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe. Croswell's narrative is crisp, concise, and entertainingly informative....

Croswell has succeeded in writing a book that is fun, fact-filled, and concise, making it suitable for a wide audience. It also holds a lot of material on the planets, which may make it more appealing to children.
--Jennifer Birriel

Read an Excerpt from MAGNIFICENT UNIVERSE!