The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

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When it comes to these women — their pluck, persistence, insights and eventual recognition — The Glass Universe positively glows.
-NPR

Synopsis

New from #1 New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel, the "inspiring" (People), little-known true story of women's landmark contributions to astronomy

"A joy to read.” —The Wall Street Journal

Named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Economist, Smithsonian, Nature, and NPR's Science Friday

Nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.
 

About Dava Sobel

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Dava Sobel is an award-winning former science reporter for the New York Times and writes frequently about science for several magazines, including Audubon, Discover, Life, and Omni. She lives in East Hampton, New York. Arthur C. Klein is a survey designer and market research specialist. He is the best-selling co-author of Backache Relief, Arthritis: What Works, and Arthritis: What Exercises Work. He lives in East Hampton, New York.
 
Published December 6, 2016 by Viking. 333 pages
Genres: History, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Glass Universe
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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jun 22 2016

With grace, clarity, and a flair for characterization, Sobel places these early women astronomers in the wider historical context of their field for the very first time.

Read Full Review of The Glass Universe: How the L... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on Dec 04 2016

When it comes to these women — their pluck, persistence, insights and eventual recognition — The Glass Universe positively glows.

Read Full Review of The Glass Universe: How the L... | See more reviews from NPR

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