American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

By the last quarter of the 19th century, the natural creative spirit of Americans was melding with scientific knowledge and method to fuel a period of intense and competitive scientific investigation, discovery and innovation. It was the beginning of the American eclipse of European dominance in the sciences. The author of this engaging bit of history focuses on another eclipse during this period, the total solar eclipse of July 29, 1878, and examines the characteristics of the American scientific community of the time. Personal stories of the scientists in several fields who gathered in Wyoming and Colorado that summer are set within the historical, social and cultural features of late 19th century America. We meet astronomers James Watson, Simon Newcomb, Maria Mitchell, Cleveland Abbe (the first official U.S. weatherman), and inventor Thomas Edison among others who observed the eclipse. Baron's stylish writing and the anecdotes about the scientists make this a fascinating read that contributes to an understanding of who we were --and are -- as Americans.Recommended.

— Alice


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.

Product Details
ISBN: 9781631490163
ISBN-10: 1631490168
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: June 6th, 2017
Pages: 352
Language: English