Leila Belkora: Minding the Heavens—The Story of Our Discovery of the Milky Way

Minding the Heavens

Minding the Heavens


Leila Belkora
CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, May 13, 2021
Hardback $92.00, Paperback $35.96, ebook $35.96
ISBN 10: 0367415666
ISBN-13: 978-0367417222 (hardback)
ISBN-13: 978-0367415662 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0367815936 (ebook)

Belkora reports:

Minding the Heavens grew out of my interactions with students in a class I taught on the history of science in the late 1990s. When I asked, “How do we know we live in a galaxy?” I heard, “We have pictures of it.” I realized then that many people think we have photographs of the Milky Way taken from some vantage point in space.

In fact, we’ve had to build up our knowledge of our own and other galaxies by painstaking work from deep inside our own stellar system. It took us more than 200 years. The result has been a fascinating picture of our galaxy as an example of the spiral disk type, complete with star-forming regions, a supermassive black hole, and remnants of nearby star systems that have been gravitationally “cannibalized.”

Leila Belkora

Leila Belkora

I decided to unpack this history in a book for the general public. I tell the story through biographies of seven astronomers who worked on the question of our place in the cosmos. The first edition of Minding the Heavens came out in late 2002 (copyright date 2003) from Institute of Physics Publishing in the UK.

I sold the first edition without the benefit of an agent. Taylor & Francis acquired the publisher a few years after my book came out. The second edition (2021) arose serendipitously from a communication I had with Taylor & Francis about locating my book on their back list. An editor asked if I’d like to update the book.

Luckily, I had kept a well-organized “archive” of my notes and even the original contract from two decades earlier. Surprisingly, I found I had to update not only the final chapter, which brings the reader up to date on Milky Way research, but also the historical chapters. Since the first edition, historians of science have uncovered more details about the topics and people I cover.

I advise aspiring authors who haven’t found an agent to research publishers and query those who publish books similar to what you have in mind for yours.

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Jun. 18, 2021

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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