Discovering the Historical, Cultural and Inspirational Impacts of a Solar Eclipse

Curious readers seeking to know more about eclipses, the history behind them, and the people who saw it all will find both of these books to be to be fascinating reads
Baron, David. American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race To Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World. Liveright: Norton. Jun. 2017. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631490163. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631490170. SCI american eclipseInstead of looking at the broader phenomenon of eclipses in general, this title focuses on a single eclipse, that of 1878. Baron (The Beast in the Garden) highlights the experiences of three observers of that event: Maria Mitchell, James Craig ­Watson, and Thomas Edison. Other individuals and scientific details are woven into the narrative as it moves the central figures toward the day of the eclipse. Throughout, the book depicts the United States as a young country striving to achieve parity with Europe on the intellectual stage. Many American astronomers saw the 1878 eclipse as a chance to demonstrate to the world what America could do for science. Watson was hoping to discover a new planet to win recognition for this country and himself. Mitchell led an all-female expedition to Colorado to show that women could contribute, too. And although Edison’s experiments during the eclipse had no lasting impact on history or astronomy, Baron tells a compelling tale about the inventor. All of these figures also appear in John Dvorak’s Mask of the Sun but only briefly. ­VERDICT Best for readers who are getting their technical details elsewhere yet enjoy a good story about science. [Prepub Alert, 1/9/17.]—Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston redstarDvorak, John. Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses. Pegasus. Mar. 2017. 296p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781681773308. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773858. SCI mask of the sunDo you have friends planning a trip to Idaho or Missouri in August? They’re probably traveling there to see the eclipse. The United States is about to enter a period of eclipse abundance, with total solar eclipses crossing large swaths of the country in 2017, 2024, and 2045. This will doubtless lead many curious readers seeking to know more. This book provides an excellent overview of how eclipses work and how people have interpreted them through time. The four-page “eclipse primer” with illustrations is especially handy and clear. Dvorak (The Last Volcano) explains complex scientific ideas succinctly and clearly without resorting to formula or jargon. Furthermore, he does an excellent job of conveying the wonder of eclipses, describing both their historical-cultural value and the inspirational effect they have on people. He mentions pivotal eclipses—such as the 1978 eclipse described in David Baron’s American Eclipse—and places them in a larger context of scientific discovery and history. Along the way we meet famous writers, from Thucydides to Virginia Woolf, and scientists, from Ptolemy to Albert Einstein. VERDICT A splendid introduction to all aspects of eclipses; for all readers interested in science.—Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., ­Emerson Coll., Boston

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