Mitton, Simon 1946-
Mitton, Simon 1946-
Born December 18, 1946, in Bristol, England; son of Francis (an accountant) and Margaret Mitton; married Jacqueline Pardoe (a writer), June 27, 1970; children: Lavinia, Veronica. Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1968; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1971.
Home—Canterbury Close, Cambridge, England. Office—St Edmund's College, Cambridge CB3 0BN, England. Agent—Sara Menguc, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT2 5NB, England. E-mail—[email protected].
Scientist, educator, writer, and editor. Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, secretary of Institute of Astronomy, 1972-78; St. Edmunds College, Cambridge, England, affiliated research scholar, history and philosophy of science, treasurer, and fellow, beginning 1973; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, science publisher, 1978-2001; Total Astronomy Limited, Cambridge, England, founder and director; International Journal of Astrobiology, founder and managing editor, 2001—. Guest on television and radio programs. Also consultant to the European Commission and physics consultant to Science Watch, a department of the Institute for Scientific Information, Philadelphia, PA. Guest lecturer on astronomy for cruise lines.
Royal Astronomical Society (fellow; member of council, 1975-78; library committee).
Honorable mention for best older children's book from New York Academy of Sciences, 1979, for The Crab Nebula; Minor Planet 4027 named as Mitton in recognition of services in popularizing astronomy, International Astronomical Union.
Exploring the Galaxies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Peter P. Eggleton and John A.J. Whelan) Close Binary Systems (monograph), J. Reidel (Boston, MA), 1977.
(Editor-in-chief) The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy, foreword by Sir Martin Ryle, Crown (New York, NY), 1977.
The Crab Nebula, Scribner (New York, NY), 1979.
(With wife, Jacqueline Mitton) Star Atlas, Crown (New York, NY), 1979.
(With J. Mitton) The Prentice-Hall Concise Book of Astronomy, Prentice-Hall (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada), 1979.
(With Cyril Hazard) Active Galactic Nuclei (monograph), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1979.
(Translator from French, with J. Mitton) Jean Heidmann, An Introduction to Cosmology, Springer-Verlag (Germany), 1980.
Daytime Star, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.
Beyond the Moon, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1981.
(With J. Mitton) Discovering Astronomy, American Museum of Natural History (Alexandria, VA), 1982.
(Editor) Observatories of the World, Van Nostrand Reinhold (New York, NY), 1982.
(With J. Mitton) Invitation to Astronomy, Blackwell (New York, NY), 1986.
(With J. Mitton) The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
(With J. Mitton) Scholastic Encyclopedia of Space, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor, with Peter Harman) Cambridge Scientific Minds, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Writer (and presenter) for Beyond the Moon, a series on British independent television, 1979. Contributor to scholarly journals and popular magazines in Britain and the United States, including New Scientist, Nature, and Astronomy. Editor of Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1975-80.
Simon Mitton once told CA: "I am motivated by a desire to explain modern astronomy in the simplest terms, using clear text and excellent illustrations. I began with magazine articles, then progressed to books. I have visited major observatories in Europe, the United States, and Australia, and this travel has given me numerous valuable contacts with professional astronomers.
"My training as a physicist has enabled me to follow the complex reasoning used by theorists to explain modern astronomical discoveries. In writing I can present material at any level from ten-year-old children to graduate students, and I have tried never to write things that are plain wrong just because the readers may not have the knowledge to see the error. Always I try to find photographs that have not been used before, and I think this makes my books look fresh.
"Like most writers I write for selfish reasons: I like to do it and I enjoy the challenge of understanding a new field well enough to write a definitive book. Before I wrote The Crab Nebula and Daytime Star I knew almost nothing about these subjects. Although I am the physical science publisher at Cambridge University Press, I welcome the opportunity to write for our competitors; it broadens my experience of publishing and stops me from feeling that I work all hours for the same employer. Significantly, I create more ideas for books as a publisher than I could as a full-time writer. In fact, most of my writing now takes place after an approach from a publisher, and I much prefer to work with an editor who already has a reasonable idea of what the book should look like.
"Surprisingly, perhaps, I read very little myself. Much of what is published seems poorly written, and yet there is also much that is superb. The one author who had the greatest influence on my writing is Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, the giant among Cambridge astronomers. To aspiring science writers I would advise a good stint at the discipline of magazine and newspaper writing. Far too much popular science is written by professional journalists, too little by scientists themselves. I have long thought that scientists, in comparison to economists and politicians for example, do not make sufficient effort to communicate with ordinary people, and it is this that motivates me the most in my own work."
Many of Mitton's writings have helped to popularize astronomy, such as Star Atlas and The Prentice-Hall Concise Book of Astronomy, both written with his wife, Jacqueline Mitton. In recognition of his and his wife's work writing about astronomy for the general public, the International Astronomical Union designated asteroid 4027 as Minor Planet Mitton.
Mitton is also the sole author of books and collaborates with other writers and editors. For example, he and Peter Harman are coeditors of the 2001 title, Cambridge Scientific Minds. In the book, Mitton and Harman collect twenty-seven portraits of some of the most eminent scientists associated with Cambridge University over the past 400 years. Among those profiled are Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, James Clerk Maxwell, and Stephen Hawking. The book includes personal memoirs and historical essays and contributions from leading Cambridge scientists. "These portraits, by different authors, stand alone pretty well," noted David Sharp in a review in the Lancet.
Mitton conducted his postdoctoral studies and research under Sir Fred Hoyle at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. He has written a comprehensive biography of Hoyle, who died in 2001, titled Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science, published in England as Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science. "Hoyle's busy life and eclectic ideas present a challenge to biographers, who must choose where to focus their accounts," noted Kenneth Silber in Reason. The reason for this "challenge" is that Hoyle was not only a well-recognized scientist in the area of cosmology and astronomy but also a science fiction writer and a person who tried to popularize science for the masses through his writings and his television appearances. As noted by Silber, Hoyle was also "in the thick of debates about science and religion, evolution and creation; his name and ideas live on in today's growing strife over whether the natural world bears the fingerprints of an intelligent designer."
In his biography of Hoyle, Mitton focuses primarily on Hoyle's mainstream scientific achievements but also examines his views outside of mainstream science. For example, he discusses Hoyle's longstanding difference with the Royal Astronomical Society. Mitton also examines Hoyle's opposition to the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the cosmos. Ironically, it was Hoyle who named the theory. "Simon Mitton's Conflict in the Cosmos is a beautifully written, detailed, and worthy portrait of this genius born of working-class parents," wrote Leif J. Robinson in Sky & Telescope, adding: "It's an easy read and thoroughly documented." Howard A. Barnes, writing in History: Review of New Books, called Conflict in the Cosmos a "superior presentation of the man, his work, and his colleagues, which will be valuable to professionals and others who have an intense interest in modern science."
Mitton told CA: "The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer of popular science is the importance of using story-telling techniques even in books that are purely factual. My writing, even at its most technical, borrows heavily from techniques used by contemporary novelists. In that respect my Conflict in the Cosmos is my favorite book because I was able to get the reader deeply engaged in the biographical details. Another surprising thing I have learned is the importance of not using technical equations. In fact I am the unnamed publisher's editor in the preface of Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time—I told him that ‘every equation halves the market,’ and I continue to believe in the truth of that.
"Now that I mainly write on history and biography, I hope the main effect is that I bring topics alive for my readers so they feel that they are ‘there’ as passive bystanders to important moments in history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September 1, 2005, David H. DeVorkin, "The Outsider," review of Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science, p. 462.
Astronomy, February, 1982, review of Daytime Star, p. 68; December, 1994, review of The Crab Nebula, p. 120; March, 1996, review of The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy, p. 92.
Biography, fall, 2005, David H. DeVorkin and E. Margaret Burbidge, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 712.
BJHS: The British Journal for the History of Science, December, 2004, Maria Yamalidou, review of Cambridge Scientific Minds, p. 466; March, 2007, Robert W. Smith, "Fred Hoyle's Universe," p. 152.
Booklist, March 1, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 1123.
Choice, October, 2005, P.R. Douville, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 313.
History of Science, September, 2003, review of Cambridge Scientific Minds, p. 363.
History: Review of New Books, spring, 2005, Howard A. Barnes, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 123.
Isis, March, 2003, Marsha L. Richmond, review of Cambridge Scientific Minds, p. 124.
Journal for the History of Astronomy, February, 2006, Longair Malcolm, "Hoyle Assessed," review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 111.
Lancet, February 2, 2002, David Sharp, "Fine Minds from the Fens," review of Cambridge Scientific Minds, p. 456.
Library Journal, August, 1981, review of Daytime Star, p. 1556; May 1, 1986, Jack W. Weigel, review of Invitation to Astronomy, p. 125; March 15, 2005, Denise Dayton, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 108.
Natural History, October, 2005, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 60.
New Scientist, May 7, 2005, David Hughes, "Largerthan-Life Genius," p. 49.
New Yorker, November 23, 1981, review of Daytime Star, p. 227; November 23, 1981, review of Daytime Star, p. 227.
Physics Today, March, 2006, Roger Blandford, review of Conflict in the Cosmo, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 1981, review of Daytime Star, p. 56; February 7, 2005, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 54.
Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2002, Brian K. Hall, review of Cambridge Scientific Minds, p. 440.
Reason, March, 2006, Kenneth Silber, " Volatile Stardust," review of Conflict in the Cosmos.
School Library Journal, November, 1986, Mary Wadsworth Sucher, review of Invitation to Astronomy, p. 115; June, 1996, review of Astronomy, p. 162; June, 1996, Wendy D. Caldiero, review of The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy, p. 162; February, 2000, Hillary Jan Donitz-Goldstein, review of Scholastic Encyclopedia of Space, p. 80.
Science, May 13, 2005, E. Margaret Burbidge, "Going on from Observation," p. 956.
Science Books & Films, March, 1980, review of The Crab Nebula, p. 203; May, 1982, review of Daytime Star, p. 254; November, 1986, review of Invitation to Astronomy, p. 98; September-October, 2005, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 202; November-December, 2005, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 240.
Science News, April 16, 1983, review of Daytime Star, p. 253; June 25, 2005, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 415.
SciQuest, January, 1982, Alan Lightman, review of Daytime Star, p. 32.
SciTech Book News, June, 2005, review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 34.
Sky & Telescope, May, 1980, Lawrence H. Aller, review of The Crab Nebula, p. 411; May, 1986, review of Invitation to Astronomy, p. 473; June, 1996, review of Astronomy, p. 57; January, 2006, Leif J. Robinson, "According to Hoyle," review of Conflict in the Cosmos, p. 108.
Times Educational Supplement, March 3, 1995, review of Astronomy, p. 14.
St. Edmunds College, Cambridge,http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/ (February 10, 2008), faculty profile of author.