American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World (Hardcover)
In 1878, people flocked to the Rocky Mountains to observe a highly publicized total solar eclipse. Among them were the egotistical comet and asteroid chaser James Craig Watson searching for the planet Vulcan, astronomer Maria Mitchell trying to prove women's place in science, and a young Thomas Edison testing a new invention. This meticulously researched and engaging narrative, set against the dawn of the Gilded Age, follows the three eclipse chasers as America asserts itself on the scientific world stage. Luckily, we have a chance to experience the awe of a total solar eclipse this August as close as Oregon. This might just make me into an umbraphile! -Andy— From Summer Booknotes 2017
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.