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


Overview - From #1 New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel, t he "inspiring" ( People ), little-known true story of women's landmark contributions to astronomy

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

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.  Read more...


 
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More About The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
 
 
 
Overview
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel, the "inspiring" (People), little-known true story of women's landmark contributions to astronomy

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

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

"A joy to read." --The Wall Street Journal

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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780670016952
  • ISBN-10: 0670016950
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publish Date: December 2016
  • Page Count: 336
  • Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Science > History
Books > Science > Astronomy
Books > History > Modern - 20th Century

 
BookPage Reviews

A celebrated female astronomer

Dava Sobel, best known for such remarkable books as Galileo’s Daughter and Longitude, chronicles the groundbreaking careers of several little-known women scientists in The Glass Universe

Sobel begins her story in 1882 at a glittering dinner party held by Dr. Henry Draper and his wife, Anna Palmer Draper. Dr. Draper, a physician and amateur astronomer, died five days later, leaving Anna with a deep desire to continue his work. 

Her support, along with that of fellow heiress Catherine Wolfe Bruce, made it possible for women such as Antonia Maury, Williamina Fleming and Cecilia Payne (who earned Harvard’s first Ph.D. in astronomy) to work at the Harvard Observatory and contribute to the discoveries of the day.

One of the pleasures of seeing history through Sobel’s eyes is her delectable prose and her ability to realize scenes from the past. Her new book is a compelling read and a welcome reminder that American women have long desired to reach for the stars.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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