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American Eclipse : A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World
by David Baron


Overview -

On a scorching July afternoon in 1878, at the dawn of the Gilded Age, the moon's shadow descended on the American West, darkening skies from Montana Territory to Texas. This rare celestial event--a total solar eclipse--offered a priceless opportunity to solve some of the solar system's most enduring riddles, and it prompted a clutch of enterprising scientists to brave the wild frontier in a grueling race to the Rocky Mountains.  Read more...


 
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More About American Eclipse by David Baron
 
 
 
Overview

On a scorching July afternoon in 1878, at the dawn of the Gilded Age, the moon's shadow descended on the American West, darkening skies from Montana Territory to Texas. This rare celestial event--a total solar eclipse--offered a priceless opportunity to solve some of the solar system's most enduring riddles, and it prompted a clutch of enterprising scientists to brave the wild frontier in a grueling race to the Rocky Mountains. Acclaimed science journalist David Baron, long fascinated by eclipses, re-creates this epic tale of ambition, failure, and glory in a narrative that reveals as much about the historical trajectory of a striving young nation as it does about those scant three minutes when the blue sky blackened and stars appeared in mid-afternoon.

In vibrant historical detail, American Eclipse animates the fierce jockeying that came to dominate late nineteenth-century American astronomy, bringing to life the challenges faced by three of the most determined eclipse chasers who participated in this adventure. James Craig Watson, virtually forgotten in the twenty-first century, was in his day a renowned asteroid hunter who fantasized about becoming a Gilded Age Galileo. Hauling a telescope, a star chart, and his long-suffering wife out west, Watson believed that he would discover Vulcan, a hypothesized "intra-Mercurial" planet hidden in the sun's brilliance. No less determined was Vassar astronomer Maria Mitchell, who--in an era when women's education came under fierce attack--fought to demonstrate that science and higher learning were not anathema to femininity. Despite obstacles erected by the male-dominated astronomical community, an indifferent government, and careless porters, Mitchell courageously charged west with a contingent of female students intent on observing the transcendent phenomenon for themselves. Finally, Thomas Edison--a young inventor and irrepressible showman--braved the wilderness to prove himself to the scientific community. Armed with his newest invention, the tasimeter, and pursued at each stop by throngs of reporters, Edison sought to leverage the eclipse to cement his place in history. What he learned on the frontier, in fact, would help him illuminate the world.

With memorable accounts of train robberies and Indian skirmishes, David Baron's page-turning drama refracts nineteenth-century science through the mythologized age of the Wild West, revealing a history no less fierce and fantastical.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781631490163
  • ISBN-10: 1631490168
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publish Date: June 2017
  • Page Count: 352
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Science > Astronomy - General
Books > History > United States - 19th Century
Books > Science > History

 
BookPage Reviews

Science meets the Wild West

In American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, self-professed umbraphile (eclipse chaser) and author David Baron tells the tale of an eclipse that briefly darkened Denver and other parts of the American West in July 1878. As Baron acknowledges, a total solar eclipse, “in which the moon completely obscures the face of the sun, is exceptional.” Passing over any given location on earth just once every 400 years, it provides an experience that is “otherworldly.”

Baron neatly weaves together the stories of three scientific visionaries of the period: famous inventor Thomas Edison and astronomers James Craig Watson and Maria Mitchell. Edison hoped to use the eclipse to test his latest invention, a tasimeter (designed to measure the heat emanating from the sun’s corona), and promote his scientific and creative reputation in the process. Watson was seeking to discover the elusive and mysterious planet Vulcan, which was said to lie between Mercury and the sun. Mitchell, a progressive trailblazer and professor of astronomy at Vassar, with a group of female students in tow, sought to prove that women were viable scientists and to expand women’s limited opportunities.

In vivid detail, Baron unfolds their backstories and reveals what led each of them to make their way to the still unsettled Wild West to view this phenomenon. He deftly communicates the significance of the event within the era. It was the midst of the Gilded Age, and Americans were desperately trying to show the world they were competitive and powerful. As Baron points out, “advancing science in the United States required convincing the populace of the value of research—that it was worth promotion and investment.”

American Eclipse will undoubtedly spur scores of readers to desire their own total solar eclipse experience. How auspicious that such an event takes place in America on August 21—the first total solar eclipse to travel across America in 99 years. Baron will undoubtedly be watching.

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews