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The Glass Universe

How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

Dava Sobel

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06 December 2016
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 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.
Imprint:   Viking
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 160mm,  Spine: 29mm
Weight:   567g
ISBN:   9780670016952
ISBN 10:   0670016950
Pages:   336
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

DAVA SOBEL is the author of five books, including the <i>New York Times</i> bestsellers <i>Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, </i> <i>The Planets</i>, and <i>The Glass Universe.</i> A former <i>New York Times </i>science reporter and longtime contributor to <i>The New Yorker</i>, <i>Audubon</i>, <i>Discover</i>, and <i>Harvard Magazine, </i> she is the recipient of the National Science Board's Individual Public Service Award and the Boston Museum of Science's Bradford Washburn Award, among others.

Reviews for The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

<b>Praise for</b><i><b>The Glass Universe</b></i> Sensitive, exacting, and lit with the wonder of discovery. Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of<i>The Sixth Extinction</i> This is intellectual history at its finest. Dava Sobel is extraordinarily accomplished at uncovering the hidden stories of science. Geraldine Brooks, <i>New York Times</i> bestselling author of <i>The Secret Chord </i>and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of <i>March</i> [Sobel] soars higher than ever before...[continuing]her streak of luminous science writing with this fascinating, witty, and most elegant history...<i>The Glass Universe</i>is a feast for those eager to absorb forgotten stories of resolute American women who expanded human knowledge. <i>Booklist, </i>Starred Review Sobel knows how to tell an engaging story...With grace, clarity, and a flair for characterization, [she] places these early women astronomers in the wider historical context of their field for the very first time. <i>Publishers Weekly, </i>Starred Review <b>Praise for </b><i><b>The Planets</b></i> [<i>The Planets</i>] lets us fall in love with the heavens all over again. <i>The New York Times Book Review</i> [Sobel] has outdone her extraordinary talent for keeping readers enthralled. . . . A splendid and enticing book. <i>San Francisco Chronicle</i> An incantatory serenade to the Solar System. <i>Entertainment Weekly</i> <b>Praise for <i>Galileo's Daughter</i></b> Sobel is a master storyteller. . . . She brings a great scientist to life. <i>The New York Times Book Review</i> <b>Praise for <i>Longitude</i></b> This is a gem of a book. <i>The New York Times</i> A simple tale, brilliantly told. <i>The Washington Post</i> <b>Praise for <i>A More Perfect Heaven</i></b> Ms. Sobel is an elegant stylist, a riveting and efficient storyteller, a writer who can bring the dustiest of subjects to full-blooded life. <i>The New York Times</i> Lively, inventive . . . a masterly specimen of close-range cultural history. <i>The Wall Street Journal</i>

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