The appeal of astronomy is both intellectual and aesthetic; it combines the thrill of exploration and discovery, the fun of sight-seeing, and the sheer pleasure of firsthand acquaintance with incredibly wonderful and beautiful things…
So wrote longtime Flagstaff resident Robert Burnham, Jr., the author of one of the most prized astronomy books of our time. Burnham’s story is one of passion, persistence, and, ultimately, tragedy.
Robert Burnham, Jr. was born in Chicago on June 16, 1931. His family moved to Arizona in 1940, settling in Prescott. At an early age Robert began a lifelong pursuit of studying the universe, collecting rare coins, amassing bookshelves full of rocks and minerals, and peering at the sky through telescopes—all while reading as much as he could on each subject.
He graduated from Prescott High School in 1949 and two years later enlisted in the Air Force. After his four-year-tour finished, he returned home to Prescott and eventually took a job as a shipping clerk, though he continued his passion of studying the universe. It was at about this time that he began thinking about compiling an astronomy book like no other, one that comprehensively covered the science and mythology of all 88 constellations.