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

When science journalist David Baron (The Beast in the Garden) viewed a total solar eclipse for the first time, he was surprised by his passionate response. "For three glorious minutes... my consciousness departed the earth and I gaped at an alien sky." That experience made him a devoted eclipse chaser, and eventually led him to the story of the eclipse that was visible from the United States' Wild West in 1878.

In the late 19th century, eclipses were not only a rare spectacle, but an exceptional opportunity for American astronomers, too. They could study the bodies of the solar system and the chemical composition of the sun, and prove themselves the scientific equals of their European counterparts. Congress reluctantly funded an expedition, and independent teams as well as mobs of tourists swarmed west for the great 175-second (or less) event. Baron builds his story around three vivid figures: young Thomas Edison, who assembled a "tasimeter" to measure the heat of the stars; Maria Mitchell, an adored astronomy professor at Vassar College who headed an all-woman team; and James Craig Watson, a competitive, unscrupulous astronomer who had discovered a record number of asteroids.

Baron mingles the excitement, aspiration and drama of these events with a good dose of technical information and scientific history. Archival photos, sketches and prints are scattered throughout the pages. This is a wonderful, dramatic piece of scientific history, and a fine companion for eclipses to come. --Sara Catterall

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