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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

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In the scorching summer of 1878, with the Gilded Age in its infancy, three tenacious and brilliant scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse. One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid In the scorching summer of 1878, with the Gilded Age in its infancy, three tenacious and brilliant scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse. One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid press fast on his heels, sought to test his scientific bona fides and light the world through his revelations. David Baron brings to three-dimensional life these three competitors—James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison—and thrillingly re-creates the fierce jockeying of nineteenth-century American astronomy. With spellbinding accounts of train robberies and Indian skirmishes, the mythologized age of the last days of the Wild West comes alive as never before. A magnificent portrayal of America’s dawn as a scientific superpower, American Eclipse depicts a young nation that looked to the skies to reveal its towering ambition and expose its latent genius.


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In the scorching summer of 1878, with the Gilded Age in its infancy, three tenacious and brilliant scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse. One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid In the scorching summer of 1878, with the Gilded Age in its infancy, three tenacious and brilliant scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse. One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid press fast on his heels, sought to test his scientific bona fides and light the world through his revelations. David Baron brings to three-dimensional life these three competitors—James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison—and thrillingly re-creates the fierce jockeying of nineteenth-century American astronomy. With spellbinding accounts of train robberies and Indian skirmishes, the mythologized age of the last days of the Wild West comes alive as never before. A magnificent portrayal of America’s dawn as a scientific superpower, American Eclipse depicts a young nation that looked to the skies to reveal its towering ambition and expose its latent genius.

30 review for American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    Another nonfiction book that wasn't bad but I didn't enjoy because of my own personal tastes. I got pretty bored reading about scientists trying to go out of their way just to observe an eclipse, and I couldn't relate with the authors clearly visceral feelings towards eclipses. I don't even get why properly measuring and observing an eclipse was even something that would put the US on the map and make our science community respectable because again I'm jut like wow the sun was blocked out great Another nonfiction book that wasn't bad but I didn't enjoy because of my own personal tastes. I got pretty bored reading about scientists trying to go out of their way just to observe an eclipse, and I couldn't relate with the authors clearly visceral feelings towards eclipses. I don't even get why properly measuring and observing an eclipse was even something that would put the US on the map and make our science community respectable because again I'm jut like wow the sun was blocked out great so what. I did enjoy reading about Maria Mitchell though because she seems pretty kick ass and proactive. The writing was good too. Just the only thing that really caught my attention in the whole book was the murder that happened during the eclipse and I guess that just explains why I couldn't enjoy a science book with much subtler suspense and I just want things to happen.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    If I had any doubts that the world is still obsessed with eclipses, I need only turn on the television or look online or at a newspaper to set me straight. In two days Americans will see the most famous total solar eclipse in decades and everywhere I go people are talking about it. Granted, we no longer feel that we need to sacrifice virgins to volcanos to get the sun to return but in our way, we are still enthralled by a mystical attraction to the most astounding astronomical event most people If I had any doubts that the world is still obsessed with eclipses, I need only turn on the television or look online or at a newspaper to set me straight. In two days Americans will see the most famous total solar eclipse in decades and everywhere I go people are talking about it. Granted, we no longer feel that we need to sacrifice virgins to volcanos to get the sun to return but in our way, we are still enthralled by a mystical attraction to the most astounding astronomical event most people are ever likely to see. Former NPR science correspondent David Baron witnessed his first total eclipse in 1998 and has been a confirmed umbraphile ever since, traveling the world to witness this amazing phenomenon whenever he can. His newest book tells the story of America’s last greatest eclipse which occurred on July 29th, 1878, when path that the moon’s shadow took went right across the wild west from Montana territory down to Texas. Astronomers and scientists from around the world flocked to the American West to witness the event. Chief among them was Thomas Edison who, at just over thirty and having recently invented the phonograph, was already an American icon and media darling. Others making the pilgrimage west were Cleveland Abbe, chef meteorologist for the newly formed National Weather Service, Maria Mitchell, director of the Vassar College Observatory, and James Craig Watson, director of the Ann Arbor Observatory. Edison had recently invented the tasimeter, a device designed to measure infrared radiation and scientists hoped that it could be used during the eclipse to measure the temperature of the sun’s corona, something which cannot ordinarily be done due to the tremendous heat given off by the sun itself. Watson, the discoverer of 22 asteroids, was hunting an even more elusive prey. He hoped to be the first person to see the planet Vulcan widely believed to exist and have an orbit closer to the sun than Mercury. If it existed, such a planet would never appear in the night sky so the only way to see it would be during an eclipse. Mitchell’s goal was possibly the most important of all. In a world that believed the feminine mind lacked the aptitude for higher education and that strenuous mental activity was physically harmful to women, Mitchell and a team of female astronomers from Vassar set out to report on the eclipse and prove to the world that women were just as capable of men at when it came to scientific observation, reporting and methodology. The 1878 eclipse had result of putting the United States front and center on the stage of scientific study and discovery, a position that some would argue it has held firmly until the beginning of this year. Edison may not have perfected his tasimeter but as soon as he return home to Menlo Park he began work on the light bulb, an invention that forever freed mankind from the shadows. Bottom line: This book was entertaining an full of valuable information. It also gave me a good sense of the mood and attitudes of Americans during the decade after the Civil War. Baron researched the subject thoroughly, which helped keep me reading even when the story was less than compelling. The Highbridge Audio version of Baron’s book was ably narrated by Jonathan Yen. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that audio recordings are not the best medium for most nonfiction books. Often when reading a nonfiction book, I like to highlight certain passages and refer back to them in the future. This is not convenient in audio. Also, I would like to how characters names are spelled so that I can do further research on them. Finally, many nonfiction books include photographs and maps of the subjects that missing from an audio recording. * The review was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review. FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements: *5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. *4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is. *3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable. *2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending. *1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robin Bonne

    This is a history of the 1878 solar eclipse. I stayed up well past my bedtime reading this because every time I thought I had reached a good spot to put it down, something intriguing would happen and I would have to keep reading. Until this book, I had never heard of Maria Mitchell. Her battle for women’s rights and respect in the scientific community were inspiring. She is a fascinating historical figure and I would like to find a biography on her to get a broader picture of her full life. Side This is a history of the 1878 solar eclipse. I stayed up well past my bedtime reading this because every time I thought I had reached a good spot to put it down, something intriguing would happen and I would have to keep reading. Until this book, I had never heard of Maria Mitchell. Her battle for women’s rights and respect in the scientific community were inspiring. She is a fascinating historical figure and I would like to find a biography on her to get a broader picture of her full life. Side note: the Galbraith’s are my ancestors and it was fun to learn about their tiny role in the story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Blaine DeSantis

    I personally loved this book. As I sit in my home that is directly in the path of the August 21, 2017 Total Eclipse I can begin to experience to excitement that the 1878 Eclipse generated to a much less sophisticated society. So much has happened in the last 139 years in terms of exploration of the galaxy, the moon, the stars and the sun and yet this book transports us back to a simpler time, a time when people did not know that helium existed and that it is one of the two elements that causes t I personally loved this book. As I sit in my home that is directly in the path of the August 21, 2017 Total Eclipse I can begin to experience to excitement that the 1878 Eclipse generated to a much less sophisticated society. So much has happened in the last 139 years in terms of exploration of the galaxy, the moon, the stars and the sun and yet this book transports us back to a simpler time, a time when people did not know that helium existed and that it is one of the two elements that causes the sun to burn so bright, as well as not knowing whether or not a planet named Vulcan existed. We follow 3 main characters: James Watson, Thomas Edison and Maria Mitchell. I loved the parts about Mitchell and her fight for Women's rights and the ability to work as Astronomers and Scientists. Watson searches, we later discover, in vain for the planet Vulcan, and Edison goes West for both a rest and to try out a new invention (the tasimeter). There are host of other names and astronomers in the book. I particularly enjoyed the time we got to spend with Astronomer/Meteorologist Cleveland Abbe and his experiences on Pikes Peak. A fast reading book for me. I have seen some lower reviews and I can understand then since the book, in one or two chapters becomes a bit tedious but the adventure of that Eclipse overwhelmed those chapters for me. Well researched and written, this is a perfect book for anyone who is anxiously awaiting our next Total Solar Eclipse in August.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This was an interesting read after watching the total eclipse of the sun this summer - shout out to my friend Beth who sent me this book after we viewed the eclipse together! The author states that he purposely prepared and released this book to coincide with the 2017 American Eclipse. He focuses on the 1878 total eclipse that crossed America and some of the major players that were making efforts to travel and study the event. We started by listening to this one in the car, but I would not recomm This was an interesting read after watching the total eclipse of the sun this summer - shout out to my friend Beth who sent me this book after we viewed the eclipse together! The author states that he purposely prepared and released this book to coincide with the 2017 American Eclipse. He focuses on the 1878 total eclipse that crossed America and some of the major players that were making efforts to travel and study the event. We started by listening to this one in the car, but I would not recommend that for a couple of reasons. First and most important, the printed book is full of illustrations - people, maps, locations, etc. The illustrations made a big difference in my ability to keep track of the names and places mentioned in the story; just listening made it more difficult to follow along and stay engaged. Second, the book opens with kind of a gory scene, which took me off guard and made me hope that the kids weren't listening in. It is for effect, and it works, but I would have preferred to read it and not hear it right at the get-go. :) The three main characters' stories are interwoven and divided into time periods; it was fairly easy to keep up although I won't remember many of the smaller players that were mentioned. I enjoyed the anecdotes that are sprinkled through and found myself sharing parts of of the book with my husband or whoever else happened to be near. I felt that Baron did a wonderful job describing the feelings that come with the viewing of a total solar eclipse. Those parts in particular I kept saying, "YES! That's exactly how it felt!" Viewing totality is not something I will forget and I appreciated the author's ability to put it into words.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Badseedgirl

    I was fortunate enough to live just a couple hours from the path of totality of what is being called 2017 Great American Eclipse, and was even more fortunate to have a Mom who lived in the path so I had a convenient place to stay. I purchased nd read this book to give me a better idea of what I could look forward to. Although I did learn a whole lot about eclipses, what I enjoyed most about this book was how very difficult women scientist of the time had it. I mean it really sucked being a femal I was fortunate enough to live just a couple hours from the path of totality of what is being called 2017 Great American Eclipse, and was even more fortunate to have a Mom who lived in the path so I had a convenient place to stay. I purchased nd read this book to give me a better idea of what I could look forward to. Although I did learn a whole lot about eclipses, what I enjoyed most about this book was how very difficult women scientist of the time had it. I mean it really sucked being a female scientist in the 1800's. I found it amazing and informative. And the eclipse was amazing. I was able to view the wonder of God's work with my own eyes. It made feel both insignificant and consequential at the same time. As an added bonus, I was able to experience it with most of my family.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    This was a great history book to read if you plan on chasing the upcoming American eclipses in 2017 or 2024 or any other eclipse in the future. This is a timeless book. I was afraid it would be some rush job to try to capitalize on the furor this year, without a lot of effort put into it. I was afraid it would be a piece of crap. I read it aloud to my kids. We all loved it. It was great history-writing, standing alone. Whether following the Vulcan-chasing Watson, the feminine-advancing Maria Mit This was a great history book to read if you plan on chasing the upcoming American eclipses in 2017 or 2024 or any other eclipse in the future. This is a timeless book. I was afraid it would be some rush job to try to capitalize on the furor this year, without a lot of effort put into it. I was afraid it would be a piece of crap. I read it aloud to my kids. We all loved it. It was great history-writing, standing alone. Whether following the Vulcan-chasing Watson, the feminine-advancing Maria Mitchell or the bumbling, but cocksure, Edison, the book was very entertaining. The author, an experienced eclipse-chaser, provides details of what to look for in an eclipse and scientific reasons behind certain eclipse phenomena. Very well-done, and certainly not a rip-off.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dax

    Very nice. Baron uses the total eclipse of 1878 to frame the scientific progress that was just beginning to take off in America. He also includes some interesting tangents about the history of astronomy, tales about outlaws of the West, and the battle for women involvement in the scientific community. Through portraits of some of the leading scientific minds of the day, including Watson and Edison. I also appreciate the extensive notes and sources listed at the end of the book. Very well researc Very nice. Baron uses the total eclipse of 1878 to frame the scientific progress that was just beginning to take off in America. He also includes some interesting tangents about the history of astronomy, tales about outlaws of the West, and the battle for women involvement in the scientific community. Through portraits of some of the leading scientific minds of the day, including Watson and Edison. I also appreciate the extensive notes and sources listed at the end of the book. Very well researched and entertaining read. Excellent. Side note: I started this off with the audio book. Do not recommend this format. I'm glad I switched to hard copy because the images in the book are helpful and the reader's voice on the audio book version is not pleasant to listen to.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I'm at 35% and I have no motivation to go further. The storyline with Maria Mitchell was interesting. The writing style didn't work for me. It felt like a lecture and came across so boring. It may have gotten better if I had actually gotten to the eclipse portion but I felt like I had already sentenced this book to its death. I'm at 35% and I have no motivation to go further. The storyline with Maria Mitchell was interesting. The writing style didn't work for me. It felt like a lecture and came across so boring. It may have gotten better if I had actually gotten to the eclipse portion but I felt like I had already sentenced this book to its death.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alisha

    This book perfectly captured the thrill of seeing a total solar eclipse, and gave me some interesting background on the scientists who pinned all their hopes on what the 1878 eclipse would bring them. In the end, it was probably a lot more background than I really wanted, for instance, on Thomas Edison, whose invention (to be tested at the time of the eclipse) turned out to be just really...unimportant. I did find it interesting to read about the female astronomer Maria Mitchell, fighting for wom This book perfectly captured the thrill of seeing a total solar eclipse, and gave me some interesting background on the scientists who pinned all their hopes on what the 1878 eclipse would bring them. In the end, it was probably a lot more background than I really wanted, for instance, on Thomas Edison, whose invention (to be tested at the time of the eclipse) turned out to be just really...unimportant. I did find it interesting to read about the female astronomer Maria Mitchell, fighting for women to be recognized as equals in the field of science. Also the scientists who were just sure that there was another planet between Mercury and the sun, and who figured they could find it during the eclipse. (They named their postulated planet Vulcan. Hehe.) Or the poor guy, Cleveland Abbe, who wanted to watch the eclipse from the top of Pike's Peak but succumbed to altitude sickness, and had to watch it from his sickbed much further down the mountain. Yes, those things were pretty interesting. But the greatest achievement of this book was to make me remember in vivid detail what it was like to see the total solar eclipse of this year, 2017. Most everyone in the U.S. had the opportunity to see it as a partial eclipse, but I will forever be grateful that I had the circumstances and relative proximity to go stand in the path of totality. Honestly, I still think about it pretty much every day and I shiver: that "WHAM" moment when the moon's shadow came for us with a sinking, racing darkness, and we could tear off our glasses and stare transfixed at an alien sky. I marvel that such an experience will NEVER be able to be properly captured by a camera of any sort (it doesn't look like what it looks like in a photo). How many things are there that you can experience only with your own two eyes, and never, never, never replicate? It was, and I do not exaggerate, a spiritual experience. So, when this book describes how even professional men and women of science found themselves trembling and emotional as hour zero approached, or how one scientist reveled in the fact that he had no experiments to perform but could throw his whole heart into watching...yeah, it resonates with me. Or, when I heard (since this was an audiobook I listened to in my car) about poor Cleveland Abbe on his sickbed observing the lightbeams coming out from behind the moon at 90-degree angles, and thinking they were tricks of light but then realizing they weren't, and I banged on my steering wheel and cried, "That's WHAT I SAW!" I loved the descriptions of the sky and the sun and the moon at the time of eclipse...a very dark warm blue (the mind reels at that combination, but it's accurate)...an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris... The book made me feel a kinship with those who watched a total solar eclipse nearly 150 years ago. It's a beautiful thing to realize that some experiences evoke feelings in the human heart that are universal and timeless. Observing a total solar eclipse is certainly one of those. P.S. If you haven't seen a total solar eclipse, do it. It was one of the best days of my life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andie

    Appearing just before the total eclipse that will across the United States on August 21, 2017, this book deals with the total eclipse of 1878, the last time there was such an event across a wide swath of the United States. This year, there are reams of material to describe what is gong to happen on the day of the event, as well as detailed maps that show where one can go to be in the area of maximum total darkness when the moon totally blocks the sun. Back in 1878, things weren't so precise. Auth Appearing just before the total eclipse that will across the United States on August 21, 2017, this book deals with the total eclipse of 1878, the last time there was such an event across a wide swath of the United States. This year, there are reams of material to describe what is gong to happen on the day of the event, as well as detailed maps that show where one can go to be in the area of maximum total darkness when the moon totally blocks the sun. Back in 1878, things weren't so precise. Author David Baron, a former science correspondent for NPR follows four different scientsts as they travel to Wyoming and Colorado to witness this rare event: --James Greg Watson, who had discovered many asteroids, was looking for a planet called “Vulcan,” a hypothetical planet that astronomers believed existed between Mercury and the sun because Mercury’s orbit didn’t make sense otherwise. Watson believed that because Vulcan was so close to the sun it could be seen because it would be lost in the sun’s glare. However, during a total eclipse when the moon blocks the bright sun, you might spot it. He was determined to try. --Maria Mitchell, an astronomy teacher at Vassar College,wanted to prove that women could be serious scientists. DR. Clark, a Harvard doctor, had claimed that higher education could actually ruin a girl’s health. His ideas were taken very seriously, and Maria Mitchell wanted to show that women could be smart and educated and healthy and feminine. She led an all-female expedition to Denver to study the eclipse. --Thomas Edison, who had already gained fame for inventing the phonograph, wanted to establish his own reputation as a scientist. He created something called a "tasimeter," which was an extremely sensitive heat detector hooked up to a telescope that he intended to test during the eclipse -- Cleveland Abbe, known as the Father of the National Weather Service, tried to see the eclipse from Pikes Peak, Colorado And nearly died from altitude sickness. The night before the eclipse he was suffering from cerebral edema, and unable to get out of bed.. He put on a stretcher and carried halfway down the mountain to 10,000 feet where he started to recover. The next afternoon he was laid out with his back on the slope to watch the eclipse. He still couldn’t get up, but he was able to see it nonetheless.” All these people were trying to prove that the United States, despite having an egalitarian society, could still produce serious scientists who would make the world sit up and take notice. And i think the author demonstrates that they were able to do the job. Baron tells eclipse-watchers they will be awed by what they see. He says instead of worrying about taking photos and getting caught up in electronic equipment, watchers should set up a camera to record their own reactions to the eclipse. “It is so precious and so brief, you really don’t want to spoil it," he said. "You'll be excited and flabbergasted. Well-composed people just fall apart and become babbling idiots.” Even if you're not going to see the eclipse next month, you should read this entertaining and informative book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Yibbie

    I really wanted to know about the study of this eclipse so I made it all the way through the book. but I didn't really enjoy it. I did find the majority of this book rather annoying. It rambled so far away from the eclipse of events even remotely connected to the eclipse that I almost gave up reading it. It seemed that the author included every remotely interesting tidbit about anyone remotely connected with the astronomers. For example, we get the story of a little girl who looked through the I really wanted to know about the study of this eclipse so I made it all the way through the book. but I didn't really enjoy it. I did find the majority of this book rather annoying. It rambled so far away from the eclipse of events even remotely connected to the eclipse that I almost gave up reading it. It seemed that the author included every remotely interesting tidbit about anyone remotely connected with the astronomers. For example, we get the story of a little girl who looked through their telescope. (She assisted in an autopsy after a lynching and kept the skull cap as a doorstop.) It rambles through Edison’s invention of the phonograph, the electric light, and the tasimeter. It also rambles through the struggles of early women scientists for recognition in their different fields. Then I was also a little disappointed. From the description I expected the scientist to be in a mad scramble to get west in time to see the eclipse and to face extreme hardships getting there. The high adventure promised by ‘tales of train robberies and Indian skirmishes’ are there, but really have nothing to do with the eclipse or the astronomers. Instead, they took the train, usually for free or sponsored by the government. There were struggles with cloud cover, rain, wind, inexperienced assistants, and altitude sickness, but that was about the extent of the high adventure directly related to the eclipse. Then there was the rather disparaging or contemptuous tone throughout the whole book. It seemed as if he was determined to point out every failing of the era and tear down everyone who wasn’t one of his favored astronomers. If I wasn’t determined to find out about the eclipse, this would have made me quit the book. I’m also not sure that I can completely support is assertions that this particular event was as history changing and culture shaking as the author makes it out to be. Once he finally got to the day of the eclipse, I found it more interesting. It actually focused on the actual study of the eclipse instead of all the peripheral issues. That was the best part of the book, but also an extremely short part of the book. There were several curse words.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joel

    I read this book after returning from my own total solar eclipse expedition in Missouri. I spent a couple of days driving each way, and booked hotels on Starwood Hotels’s website. I found an ideal spot to view it using NASA’s interactive online map – I got exactly 2 minutes and 39.6 seconds of totality, and checked the satellite weather on my smartphone with The Weather Network app. A hundred and thirty-nine years ago, however, such an expedition would have taken months to plan, required tons of I read this book after returning from my own total solar eclipse expedition in Missouri. I spent a couple of days driving each way, and booked hotels on Starwood Hotels’s website. I found an ideal spot to view it using NASA’s interactive online map – I got exactly 2 minutes and 39.6 seconds of totality, and checked the satellite weather on my smartphone with The Weather Network app. A hundred and thirty-nine years ago, however, such an expedition would have taken months to plan, required tons of equipment to be hauled, and would have taken you to the edge of the civilized world. This book tells the story of the Great American Eclipse of 1878, which was viewed by several great scientists: Thomas Edison, Samuel Pierpont Langley, and several other characters who should be a lot more famous than they are: Maria Mitchell, advocate for women in science and one of the most respected woman astronomers of her day; Cleveland Abbe, who practically invented the science of weather prediction; James Craig Watson, one of the greatest asteroid hunters in America; and the British scientist Norman Lockyer, the discoverer of helium and founder of the journal Nature. Along the way, we learn about the hunt for the planet Vulcan – which wasn’t proven to be non-existent until Einstein came up with his General Theory of Relativity; Thomas Edison’s celebrity status, even before inventing the light bulb, as well as some of his flops; and the Meeker Massacre, in which the Ute Indians killed the US Indian Agent who was trying to force the hunter-gatherer tribe into a farming lifestyle, and kidnapped his wife and daughter. I was already aware of the science discussed in the book, but the author is clear and concise in explaining it, and presents lots of original historical research to make the story exciting. It is not a very long book at all, and packs a lot into its two hundred and fifty pages of main text and beautiful illustrations and color pictures.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeimy

    The title lets readers know that the book will be about a particular eclipse, but the introduction left me wanting more anecdotes about earlier solar eclipses. Nonetheless, this was a satisfying read that focused on all the luminaries who gathered to witness the eclipse of 1786. It was fascinating to learn about the scientists who were making discoveries (planets, stars, comets) across the universe and the things they were racing each other to dicsover first.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    My well-read hairdresser recommended this to me, knowing my family is getting ready to go camping and view this even this year. When the author was featured at a speaker at our local library, my husband and I decided to check it out and see if we could learn something. He was a dynamic speaker and sparked our interest. The book focuses on three figures who were historically significant to American (and world) culture because of their involvement with the viewing of America's eclipse of 1978, incl My well-read hairdresser recommended this to me, knowing my family is getting ready to go camping and view this even this year. When the author was featured at a speaker at our local library, my husband and I decided to check it out and see if we could learn something. He was a dynamic speaker and sparked our interest. The book focuses on three figures who were historically significant to American (and world) culture because of their involvement with the viewing of America's eclipse of 1978, including an inter-mercurial planet hunter, an astronomer and leader of a woman's college who led the way for many American women to endeavor to enter studies in the sciences, and a soon-to-be-well-known inventor who wanted to prove one of his inventions worked as described. The stories are fascinating (probably moreso because much of it takes place in my adopted home state of Colorado and the surrounding area) and the descriptions of the eclipse itself has certainly made me much more excited for my own upcoming trip to see it than I was before. Here's hoping the skies are clear!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peyton Tracy

    A fantastic nonfiction account of the human and scientific experience of a solar eclipse. This book touched me on a more profound level than I ever expected and I definitely didn't think it would bring me to tears. (Several times, in a public park and an airport.) Thank you, David Barron, for this incredible book! A fantastic nonfiction account of the human and scientific experience of a solar eclipse. This book touched me on a more profound level than I ever expected and I definitely didn't think it would bring me to tears. (Several times, in a public park and an airport.) Thank you, David Barron, for this incredible book!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I'm really interested in books about 19th century science, especially the interactions with medicine, religion, philosophy, economics, and woman's rights. American Eclipse has it all, as well as a tie in to the recent solar eclipse that crossed the US in August. The book is well written and the science is well explained and easy to follow without being patronizing. The human tale of the various astronomers, colleagues, rivals and wannabes (including Thomas Edison), converging on the still wild w I'm really interested in books about 19th century science, especially the interactions with medicine, religion, philosophy, economics, and woman's rights. American Eclipse has it all, as well as a tie in to the recent solar eclipse that crossed the US in August. The book is well written and the science is well explained and easy to follow without being patronizing. The human tale of the various astronomers, colleagues, rivals and wannabes (including Thomas Edison), converging on the still wild west in 1878 is truly fascinating. On August 21, I witnessed my first and probably my last total solar eclipse on the Oregon Coast as the eclipse made landfall in the US. As many have said, the experience of totality is difficult to describe but is truly awesome (in the strict sense of the word) and rates among the top few experiences I have had in my 66 years. In the Acknowledgements chapter of his book, David Baron quotes Jay Pasachoff, his college astronomy professor: "Before you die, you owe it to yourself, at least once, to experience totality." I fully agree.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I listened to this one in the weeks before, the day of, and after the eclipse of 2017. I think that experience probably elevated my review of this book.... I really enjoyed parts about Edison, the science discoveries in the 1800s, women in science and the description of totality but other parts of the book were a bit slow. This much is for certain: I am chasing the next solar eclipse in 2024.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam Christian

    What a great story. THIS is what America, at its heart, is about. Progress, learning and leading. Plus a lot of ardor, overhype and failures... but always pressing forward. I hope I’m not the only one with this spirit or America has lost its soul.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    The summer of 2017 saw the publication of a rash of magazines and guidebooks in an effort to capitalize on the latest "American eclipse". I found it rather easy to steer clear of most of the noise, even if I did end up with about a dozen pairs of eclipse-approved glasses. The publishing of this book fell right in line with everything else. And nearly a year after the eclipse, I seem to have found myself tending to my own eclipse hangover. But as eclipse souvenirs go, you can do a lot worse than The summer of 2017 saw the publication of a rash of magazines and guidebooks in an effort to capitalize on the latest "American eclipse". I found it rather easy to steer clear of most of the noise, even if I did end up with about a dozen pairs of eclipse-approved glasses. The publishing of this book fell right in line with everything else. And nearly a year after the eclipse, I seem to have found myself tending to my own eclipse hangover. But as eclipse souvenirs go, you can do a lot worse than American Eclipse, the story of the 1878 eclipse, largely through the experiences of three scientists of the era - James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison. A lot of what makes this book a fun read is that it offers the standard appeal of a Gilded Age tale (appealing as long as we carefully ignore the post-Reconstruction South). From a scientific standpoint, we're still in that pre-Einstein world rife with invention. Baron spills a lot of ink on Edison, who mirrors his own country -- young, ambitious, chip-on-his-shoulder, one part creative genius, one part huckster. In space, there was a great race to name asteroids. What could be more charming? And the science questions were all human-sized. What is the sun made of? Is there a planet closer to the sun than Mercury? If you were writing a script, you couldn't place the eclipse in a better spot than Colorado and Wyoming. The world of science was still a metaphorical Wild West, and Europe was dominant in the transatlantic rivalry. But the frontier was on the eastern side of the Atlantic. And the great minds of the era found themselves reckoning with railroad wars, lost bags, jostled equipment and altitude sickness as far from civilization as they could possibly handle. The tale almost writes itself. But as much as I enjoyed the 'science is a messy business' tales, what really rounded out the history was the story of Mitchell, a Vassar astronomer, whose mere existence and persistence puts the story into appropriate social perspective. She aimed to draw women to science in an era when prevailing thought found acceptable opinions such as, "A woman who made a habit of riding trains did so 'at the expense of her future usefulness'." But at the heart of everything is the eclipse. The book, for obvious reasons, builds to this crescendo. I'll close with Baron's description, since it's a good one. A total eclipse is a primal, transcendent experience. The shutting off of the sun does not bring utter darkness; it is more like falling through a trapdoor into a dimly lit, unrecognizable reality. The sky is not the sky of the earth -- neither the star-filled dome of night nor the immersive blue of daylight, but an ashen ceiling of slate. A few bright stars and planets shine familiarly, like memories from a distant childhood, but the most prominent object is thoroughly foreign. You may know, intellectually, that it is both the sun and moon, yet it looks like neither. It is an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris. It is the eye of the cosmos.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lisa-Michele

    Don’t be fooled by the title, this book is about American science in the 1800s, and the 1878 Eclipse is just the hook. The author is an umbraphile, so he focuses on the eclipse, but you don’t have to. The history of science is too fascinating to miss, especially right before the turn of the century when Edison, Bell, and Watson were inventing things every few months. I also learned about the amazing women scientists, led by Maria Mitchell, a Vassar astronomy professor who fought for her place at Don’t be fooled by the title, this book is about American science in the 1800s, and the 1878 Eclipse is just the hook. The author is an umbraphile, so he focuses on the eclipse, but you don’t have to. The history of science is too fascinating to miss, especially right before the turn of the century when Edison, Bell, and Watson were inventing things every few months. I also learned about the amazing women scientists, led by Maria Mitchell, a Vassar astronomy professor who fought for her place at the science table. “These scientists, male and female, trekked to the western frontier in an age of train robberies and Indian wars. Bearing telescopes and wielding theories, they sought fame for themselves and glory for their country.” Baron uses the eclipse to show how much America threw itself into the “space race” 100 years before the moon flight. Not just astronomers but all types of scientists and wannabes planned train trips to Colorado and Wyoming with early telescopes to see the phenomenon. Maria Mitchell couldn’t get federal funding like the rest so she organized her own trip with six of her women students. The eclipse becomes a brilliant device allowing the author to weave in stories of American early scientists and describe their ingenuity and determination. “Rawlins had by now become a veritable Athens of the West. Such a collection of great minds, in such an unlikely setting, was an event worth preserving for posterity…it was also a rare opportunity for the astronomers themselves – to reconnect with old colleagues, who were also competitors.” I especially liked the story about how the astronomers recruited amateur artists and trained them to draw the corona during the three minutes of total eclipse; primitive photograph took too long and even an accomplished artist couldn’t draw that fast so they trained teams to draw and then combined all their efforts into one complete picture. American ingenuity at work!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caren

    This was an interesting introduction to solar eclipses by looking at one particular eclipse in US history. Aspects of the natural phenomenon are told through the efforts of three scientists to travel West (at a time when the West was still rather wild) to view a total solar eclipse on July 29, 1878. Traveling from the settled East to the West (specifically to Colorado and Wyoming) was a challenging undertaking and an adventure in itself in those early Gilded Age years. The focus is on three indi This was an interesting introduction to solar eclipses by looking at one particular eclipse in US history. Aspects of the natural phenomenon are told through the efforts of three scientists to travel West (at a time when the West was still rather wild) to view a total solar eclipse on July 29, 1878. Traveling from the settled East to the West (specifically to Colorado and Wyoming) was a challenging undertaking and an adventure in itself in those early Gilded Age years. The focus is on three individuals: James Craig Watson (who was in a heated rivalry with a British astronomer to see who could locate the most new celestial bodies), Maria Mitchell (an astronomy professor at Vassar and an early feminist at a time when it was believed too much intellectual activity could strain the delicate female and make her infertile), and Thomas Edison (a young man then, portrayed as brash and eager for fame). As a result of their journeys , Watson was convinced he had discovered a new planet, Vulcan (later disproved, of course). Mitchell was simply happy to have achieved her destination and that her equipment arrived in time (after a delay caused by a feud between two train companies) to be able to really experience the eclipse with her coterie of female students. Edison was testing a new gadget, a tasimeter, that would supposedly measure the heat from the sun's corona. This invention was something of a failure, but his travels after the eclipse inspired fresh ideas and took him back to his lab bursting with new proposals. The story is filled out by a cast of supporting characters and the book is full of interesting old illustrations, including portraits of most of the folks portrayed. You get a real flavor of the time, which is fun, as well as learning a few things about a total solar eclipse. The book has extensive notes, a bibliography and an index. This was a nice preparation for the "Great American Eclipse", set to travel across the continental USA in less than a week.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This very timely account of the solar eclipse of 1878 shows how the study of astronomy and that event was linked to many things, from the American quest to be serious students of science (on the world stage) to women's rights to the quest to discover more planets...and more. It was interesting to see the different stories, which included inventor Thomas Edison, female astronomer and Vassar professor Maria Mitchell and other major scientists of the day. One of my favorite quotes was about the lac This very timely account of the solar eclipse of 1878 shows how the study of astronomy and that event was linked to many things, from the American quest to be serious students of science (on the world stage) to women's rights to the quest to discover more planets...and more. It was interesting to see the different stories, which included inventor Thomas Edison, female astronomer and Vassar professor Maria Mitchell and other major scientists of the day. One of my favorite quotes was about the lack of scientific clout of the Americans at this time, who had been criticized for their lack of progress by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831. He said, "'Many Europeans, struck by this fact, have looked upon it as a natural and inevitable result of equality...'" Baron then writes that "Simon Newcomb did not subscribe to this view, but the American astronomer agreed that his own country faced a special challenge. 'In other intellectual nations, science has a fostering mother,' he maintained, 'in Germany the universities, in France the government, in England the scientific societies....The only one it can look to here is the educated public.' In a democratic and egalitarian America, the citizenry was in charge of the nation's destiny, and therefore advancing science in the United States required convincing the populace of the value of research--that it was worth promotion and investment." pages 207-208 Some things never change.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Stringer

    I had requested this book from the library to read in preparation for the big event in August. There were so many ahead of me that it didn't arrive until September. In hindsight I think that was a good thing - I could relate to the descriptions of shadow bands and crescent shadows under trees, Bailey beads and the rest on a visceral level. As someone who is seriously considering adding "becoming an umbraphile" -scientific word for an eclipse chaser, to my bucket list, it was interesting to read I had requested this book from the library to read in preparation for the big event in August. There were so many ahead of me that it didn't arrive until September. In hindsight I think that was a good thing - I could relate to the descriptions of shadow bands and crescent shadows under trees, Bailey beads and the rest on a visceral level. As someone who is seriously considering adding "becoming an umbraphile" -scientific word for an eclipse chaser, to my bucket list, it was interesting to read how things were done in an earlier time. This book tells the history of the scientific expeditions sent west to see the 1878 eclipse. Nearly, all of the science was wrong, yet they remained so convinced - probably a lesson in there somewhere about scientific hubris. Thomas Edison's tasimeter did not work and there is no planet Vulcan despite Watson's claim to have discovered it. And the sexism! Imagine the difference to human progress if half the country's brain power weren't shoved aside and/or condescended to, let alone outright barred from scientific community for fear it would somehow negatively effect women's true purpose - child bearing. I very much felt for Maria Mitchell - to be that brilliant and continually thwarted had to be beyond infuriating. Yet, she persisted her entire life. Still, without these people struggling to discover truth, we would not be where we are today. So, less about the truth of discovery and more abut the process. A worthwhile read for history and science lovers.

  25. 4 out of 5

    RMazin

    Where is the author of American Eclipse? This August, if he is not on a book tour, he will be heading to Wyoming to witness a total solar eclipse in the US. David Baron has a “case of total solar eclipse fever.” Who can blame him after reading his engaging account of the US solar eclipse in 1887? It was the beginning of the Gilded Age and the end of the Civil War. There were disputed Presidential elections, European elitism, a skepticism of science and innovation, superstition, fake news, warrin Where is the author of American Eclipse? This August, if he is not on a book tour, he will be heading to Wyoming to witness a total solar eclipse in the US. David Baron has a “case of total solar eclipse fever.” Who can blame him after reading his engaging account of the US solar eclipse in 1887? It was the beginning of the Gilded Age and the end of the Civil War. There were disputed Presidential elections, European elitism, a skepticism of science and innovation, superstition, fake news, warring scientists, a mission to empower women, and an inventor seeking backing, acceptance and publicity. Does any of this sound familiar? Baron focuses on James Craig Watson, an astronomer who wants to find more heavenly bodies and gain recognition from his European brethren and American competitors. What better time to ferret out the location of possible planets than when the skies are darkened to reveal its secrets? Maria Mitchell is an astronomer whose sights are not only set on the solar eclipse but on what it would mean for a woman to make more scientific discoveries by gazing upward. Denigrated in pay and prestige, although eminently qualified, Maria wants to succeed and translate this success into women’s’ voting rights – and its 1887! Thomas Alva Edison hopes to use this event to promote his expertise as an inventor, thereby gaining recognition and backing for further inventions. Meanwhile, he often proclaims his success before it can be verified. Lastly, there was Cleveland Abbe, who would later be seen as the founder of the National Weather Service. His ordeal of observing the eclipse from Pike’s Peak was another highlight of this remarkable book. Is it too late to book a room along the path of the 2017 US solar eclipse? Maybe, but that wouldn’t have stopped those who journeyed to Colorado and Wyoming using rail and mules. So do the next best thing and read this book. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and recommend this book

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Very informative book about the eclipse of the summer of 1878 and three of the scientists (or rather, two scientists and one inventor) who observed the eclipse and wrote about it: James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison, and how the observations contributed to the U.S. taking its place in the world's scientific community. The book also discussed how some astronomers at that time believed there was another planet between the sun and Mercury, which they referred to as "Vulcan," and t Very informative book about the eclipse of the summer of 1878 and three of the scientists (or rather, two scientists and one inventor) who observed the eclipse and wrote about it: James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison, and how the observations contributed to the U.S. taking its place in the world's scientific community. The book also discussed how some astronomers at that time believed there was another planet between the sun and Mercury, which they referred to as "Vulcan," and then the fate of the short-lived belief that the planet had indeed been found. Another interesting component of the book was the discussion about the place of female scientists within the scientific community, and how women contributed to knowledge about eclipses and about this particular eclipse despite it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    We all remember the hype and interest of recent total solar eclipse. This books goes back in history to examine the eclipse of 1878, in a world that in many ways was much different than ours and in some ways very much the same. The book tells the story of several groups of renowned scientists in their quest to study and experience the eclipse. They gathered in the Rocky Mountains, as the path of totality took them to downtown Denver, the top of Pikes Peak, and Rawlins Wyoming. Then as now the ex We all remember the hype and interest of recent total solar eclipse. This books goes back in history to examine the eclipse of 1878, in a world that in many ways was much different than ours and in some ways very much the same. The book tells the story of several groups of renowned scientists in their quest to study and experience the eclipse. They gathered in the Rocky Mountains, as the path of totality took them to downtown Denver, the top of Pikes Peak, and Rawlins Wyoming. Then as now the experience of the eclipse was a event that put a person in touch with nature and the world as we seen on once or twice in a lifetime. Even where I was back in August I on a cloudy rainy day when the clouds only parted for a couple brief seconds, I will remember what I saw, who I was with, and how for a few brief moments the solar system opened up its awe inspiring power.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    American Eclipse is an indepth look at the history of the 1878 total solar eclipse, focusing on three American scientists, Thomas Edison, James Watson and Maria Mitchell. Baron highlights the quest which American scientists undertook to be taken seriously by their European counterparts and the common argument of the 1880's which stated women were ruined by higher education. Maria Mitchel paved the way for American women and suffered the many indignities of being viewed as the weaker sex. Thankfu American Eclipse is an indepth look at the history of the 1878 total solar eclipse, focusing on three American scientists, Thomas Edison, James Watson and Maria Mitchell. Baron highlights the quest which American scientists undertook to be taken seriously by their European counterparts and the common argument of the 1880's which stated women were ruined by higher education. Maria Mitchel paved the way for American women and suffered the many indignities of being viewed as the weaker sex. Thankfully, our nation has made some progress in welcoming women to higher education and the sciences. All in all, this was a great and informative read to prepare for upcoming total eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I have my solar eclipse glasses at the ready!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Read this in preparation for viewing the solar eclipse w my family in Clayton, Ga. and then work scheduled training and I missed it and was sad and avoided reviewing this book. Really enjoyed the characterization of famous scientists from the period, though, and highly recommend to those who enjoy brilliantly interesting details, often forgotten or lost with time’s passing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cleokatra

    As an amateur historian and a professional scientist, with a PhD in spectroscopy, this book was a perfect blend of my interests. I'm used to working with very sophisticated equipment. I'm impressed with the sorts of measurements that were achieved with basic equipment in such an undeveloped setting. As an amateur historian and a professional scientist, with a PhD in spectroscopy, this book was a perfect blend of my interests. I'm used to working with very sophisticated equipment. I'm impressed with the sorts of measurements that were achieved with basic equipment in such an undeveloped setting.

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