I have surveyed a dozen current offerings for introductory general education astronomy courses, average price $150. They generally are elaborately produced with many pages of beautiful color pictures and contain far more material than typical students for this course could ever assimilate. They cover the subject from absolute magnitude to zodiac. Most are sufficiently didactic that they will never be kept as treasured mementoes after completing a course. In fact, most will be sold back to bookstores as soon as possible to recoup some of the capital investment.

We need alternatives. David Clements' Infrared Astronomy—Seeing the Heat shows one possibility. It is shorter, less expensively produced, and cheaper ($45 or less). It covers much of current astronomy but with a lighter touch. And it does not try to cover too much. The focus on infrared astronomy provides a coherent entrance to a majority of the “hottest” current topics in astronomy generally but allows doing so with a smaller burden of prior material. The book is clearly written with simple and useful diagrams. Each chapter starts with an anecdote, usually about the author, which lends a personal dimension to the discussion and should help general education students identify with the topics. This also lends the book a certain charm for those who might just read it on their own.

As an example, consider the chapter on infrared galaxies, a topic where Clements has made a number of contributions. The chapter starts with a self-deprecating story about observing on Mauna Kea, then an amusing follow-up anecdote. It next gives a short, clear overview of galaxies for general background, segueing quickly to the aspects of particular interest in the infrared: the interstellar medium, emission by dust particularly in the far infrared, and central black holes and active nuclei. These points are illustrated with a more detailed discussion of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) as a normal galaxy and the extension of that discussion to many galaxies with results from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). Next, the chapter covers active galactic nuclei (AGNs), nicely explaining the chaotic variety that was brought into order with unified theories. This brings up the question of the relation of an AGN to its host galaxy, leading to a discussion of starbursts and the importance of galaxy interactions in initiating all kinds of transformations and activity, including vast changes in morphology as well as triggering violent episodes of star formation and probably feeding central black holes to cause them to flare into AGNs. The chapter ends with a succinct summary.

At the same time, the book misses some points relevant to the goals of general education instruction. The author's perspective begins roughly when he entered the field, 25 years ago. I feel the same way, but I entered the field 20 years before he did. Maybe these views can be reconciled because the growth of infrared astronomy has been so rapid that looking back would always make the past seem modest compared with the present and future. With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the basic capability at many infrared wavelengths will have doubled roughly every ten months continuously for 50 years (capability as in the Bahcall decadal survey of 1990, proportional to the number of pixels in the largest available detector array, divided by the square of its detection limit in flux units; basically its speed in survey observations). What fueled this incredible advance? It was a combination of the technical skills of those originally attracted into the area (nearly all physicists, not astronomers); the spinoffs of the military infrared detector development, particularly large format detector arrays; and the foresight of science administrators, particularly in NASA, to gamble on funding this new and untried technique. This growth provides an ideal opportunity to cast science as an adventure and to show the forces that drive progress.

There are other possibilities for innovative general education courses that might also be considered. They include the excellent books by Marcia Bartusiak, Chris Impey, and Brian Greene, focused on individual topics that could be covered in depth. Unfortunately, books of this general type sometimes have a limited life before they become out of print and hard to obtain in the numbers required for use as a text.

As anyone who has written a book knows, errors are the authors' nightmare and can never be banished. However, this book contains a number of significant ones that will need correction if it is used for a course and that should be noted by other readers: Page 16: As correctly discussed later (e.g., page 197), most of the helium was created by thermonuclear fusion early in the Big Bang, not in stars. Therefore, the statement that “At this early stage of the Universe nearly all matter was in the form of atomic hydrogen” is not correct. Page 37: The description of the operation of a CCD (charge coupled device) is misleading. The process is not critically dependent on the p and n doping nor are the photons detected by knocking charges out of capacitors. Instead, charge is freed when photons are absorbed in the material and this photo-generated charge is collected by voltages established at electrodes that define the pixels; the collected charge is read out by passing it from one electrode to another by manipulating voltages, so this charge can be brought to an output amplifier at one edge of the detector array. Page 41: The detectors for the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) for the Spitzer telescope are not read out by CCDs. They have a dedicated amplifier for each detector element in the array and the outputs of these amplifiers are brought to the array output by electronic switching using metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs). This architecture is standard for virtually all infrared arrays. Page 46: The footnote implying that the H photometric band was only usable after observations were obtained from mountain tops is incorrect. It is as clear an atmospheric window as J and K. Page 63: One of the most important early discoveries from infrared observations of planets was the internal energy of the gas giants, found with the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory 61-Inch Telescope in 1965 by Frank Low and confirmed by his group with the Lear Jet shortly thereafter. It is not clear why this is omitted. Page 67: The major role of the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in finding asteroids is omitted; the Near-Earth Object WISE (NEOWISE) is particularly important for hunting objects in the inner Solar System. Page 140: Much more was known about extragalactic objects in the mid- and far-infrared prior to IRAS than is indicated here. Significant work in the far-infrared had been done with the Lear Jet telescope and with balloon-borne telescopes and exploratory measurements had been made at 350 μm from the ground. The 100 μm peak in star forming galaxy spectral energy distributions was well known—it was by no means discovered with IRAS. IRAS provided measurements of far more galaxies to much fainter limits than previously, but its “discovery” of this phenomenon is vastly overstated. Page 147: The mid-IR emission from AGN was well documented long before the launch of IRAS. In fact, because its very large beam captured significant emission from the AGN host galaxy along with that from the nucleus, and it had no detectors operating at wavelengths shorter than 12 μm, IRAS was unable to study the hot dust in AGNs well, contrary to the statement that IRAS discovered this dust. Page 152: The story about the far infrared emission of M82 being first discovered by IRAS, leading to the identification of the galaxy responsible, is just that—a story. In fact, a detailed paper on observations and modeling of the star formation in the galaxy, including the energy released in the far infrared, was published three years before the launch of IRAS. This paper also introduced the starburst terminology.

George Rieke is a Regents Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, The University of Arizona. He has published 3 books and about 500 peer-reviewed articles, nearly all on infrared astronomy. He was Principal Investigator of the MIPS instrument on Spitzer and is science team lead for the MIRI instrument on JWST. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.