Friday, June 30, 2017
So, the upcoming "Great American Eclipse" on August 21, 2017, which, as it happens, is also our first wedding anniversary, is something I expect to add to that litany of astronomical wonders I hold dear. However, I don't really know much about eclipses, and I refuse to show up to a party unprepared, which is how I ended up reading American Eclipse by David Baron.
This is the story of the 1878 eclipse that shadowed much of the American west. Scientists, spurred on by a rivalry with Europe, flocked to the dusty, ramshackle railroad towns in the line of totality, hoping to find something to cement their places in history. They encountered Native Americans, women aiming to prove that they had a place in science, horrid weather, and a lot of big egos. I found the interpersonal relationships mentioned in this book almost as interesting as the science itself.
I felt fully immersed in the Victorian setting, which, I found, I didn't know as much about as I thought I did! I had no idea what the average person's perception of science was, how people of different classes traveled long distances, how newspapers functioned, all of it! I was surprised by Thomas Edison's involvement and reputation among scientists and truly enjoyed the descriptions of the west. I might even give a Western a chance - there's just something appealing about it. This is one of the most informative books I've read in a long time.
Even if you're not an umbraphile (a person who loves and chases solar eclipses), this book is a well-written and fascinating glimpse into a formative period of American history.