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Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  188 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
Her maps of the ocean floor have been called "one of the most remarkable achievements in modern cartography", yet no one knows her name.

Soundings is the story of the enigmatic, unknown woman behind one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. Before Marie Tharp, geologist and gifted draftsperson, the whole world, including most of the scientific community, thought
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Apr 22, 2013 Judy rated it liked it
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor falls into the mixed-bag category for me. I'm happy that Marie Tharp receives some of the credit due her for mapping the ocean floor since very little came her way until late in her life.

How Marie even came to map the ocean floor could be considered almost accidental. Fortunately, for her she had added a drafting course to her geology studies. When she made a call on "Doc" Ewing, director of the new geophysics program at Ca
Paul Mcfarland
Jul 18, 2012 Paul Mcfarland rated it it was amazing
This is the latest in a number of long overdue books that recognize the women who, assisted in, shared in, or in many cases made, fundamental scientific discoveries.

Marie Tharp devoted her life to the study of the ocean floor. A region that was less understood than the face of the moon. She took strings of data obtained from scores of observations by vessels of many nations and put them together into a map. The ability to see this data at a glance on a map changed geology forever. The current u
Leigh Newman
Feb 06, 2013 Leigh Newman rated it really liked it
At age 28, geologist Marie Tharpe began work at Columbia University as an assistant (read: glorified secretary). By the end of her tenure there in 1982, she and her colleague Bruce Heezen had mapped the ocean floor using sonar readings and, in the process, identified "the world-girdling rift valley" that laid the foundation for proving the theory of plate tectonics. Part race-to-the-finish tale of 20th-century scientific discovery and part unconventional romance of Tharpe and Heezen, Soundings m ...more
Jul 29, 2012 Will rated it really liked it
A new addition to one of my favorite unofficial sub-genres of nonfiction--chronicles of obsessions--as well as a fresh, if problematic, take on biography and science writing, Soundings tells the story of a important, neglected, hard-driving woman who changed the way the world's population conceptualizes the planet we all live on.

Felt reverses many of her precursors' treatment of the particular scientific moment that oceanographic cartographer Marie Tharp was most productive: She reinserts Tharp
Sep 11, 2012 Tasha rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic
A decent book but not my 'type'. I am glad that someone has given this woman, Marie Tharp, a voice and she now gets the recognition due her. The writing was a bit irksome at times as the author puts in her own ideas of what happened in some scenes and dialogue. Felt does admit this in the intro so it is not a surprise and it is due to the fact that she did not actually have anyone to interview, all her information is gathered second hand. So, while I understand her dilemma and her attempts to wo ...more
Mar 11, 2016 Rrshively rated it liked it
This is a very informative book about the life of Marie Tharp who mapped the ocean floor, noticed the Atlantic rift, and influenced the scientific world to discover plate tectonics. All of the information was important, but it reads like a non-fiction autobiography which is a little more of a slog for me to read. Marie was so happy to be working on this important map work when so many qualified woman graduates in science were relegated to be nothing more than secretaries. However, she never was ...more
*Check out for other reviews and sundry thoughts!*

Biography readers who love discovering stories of fascinating, historically important figures should rush to find a copy of Soundings, Hali Felt's astute reconstruction of the life of Marie Tharp.

In 1948, when Marie Tharp went to work as a draftsperson at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory, scientists viewed advocates of continental drift with the sort of skepticism usually reserved for UFO sightings
I had never heard of Mary Tharp until I read this book. How come? I have plenty of college education and have read and studied all my life, and should have heard about here before then. The story of her life is fascinating, exciting, inspirational and sad at the same time. By reading the last chapters in the book, I was constantly thinking about how much more she could have accomplished with more acknowledgement and support of her work from the scientific community before she retired. Even thoug ...more
Dec 07, 2012 Dianne rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A quick browse through this fascinating story last night - another brillian woman of science whom we should all know. The author discovered the story of Marie Tharp while reading the wonderful end-of-year NYT obit magazine. Marie created the first complete map of our oceans' floor during the 20 years from 1948 - 1968, working with colleague and lover Bruce Heezen in the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia U. A quote: "When combined, Marie's scientific knowledge, her eye for detail, and her ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Lydia rated it it was amazing
I read the same article in the Jan 2007 New York Times as the author of this book. It sparked a curiosity that I tried to full with on-line research. Marie became a scientific hero of mine and I was angry that her role was not acknowledged in textbooks. I am so glad Ms. Felt did the research to write this book. It is clear, from the end notes, that the book was meticulously researched. Even the source of the imagined scenes is explained. While it is clear the author is not a geologist, she has d ...more
Nov 04, 2014 Susan rated it liked it
The story of Marie Tharp, a geologist who was given the job of interpreting the soundings brought back from the ocean floor by her male colleagues. With artistry and science she produced the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor and, incidentally provided compelling evidence for the unpopular theory of continental drift. The major obstacle in her work was the relative scarcity of soundings, which could be hundreds of miles apart. In which case Marie had to draw on both her geological expert ...more
Nov 05, 2012 Sarah rated it it was ok
Read this book for book club and really wanted to like it. We all thought we were going to like it, but no one really did. Conversational tone is weird with all the scientific information, and the pseudo-fiction parts are meh.
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt examines the life of Marie Tharp. As a fan of biographies and particular books about women, I found this book to be an excellent addition to my biography collection.[return][return]The book traces her life and accomplishments including her foundational work in oceanographic cartography. While most biographies focus primarily on the life of the subject, the author chose to weave in the science behind the story to ...more
Sep 29, 2012 Debbie rated it really liked it
What a great study of a woman who painstakingly mapped the known ocean floor using the current depth soundings from all over the world.
Hali Felt interjects her own thoughts to add smotions to this story, however it works because Marie Tharp is such an elusive and eccentric person.
Marie's lifelong love affair with her partner Bruce Heezen and her work was a study of a woman born before her time.
The Harrassment that both Marie and Bruce experienced from Lamont was especially poignant given there w
Phil Farquharson
Jul 06, 2013 Phil Farquharson rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 25, 2016 Joel rated it really liked it
Really enjoyable. Did a really nice job of giving putting the reader in mid-20th century geology, e.g., what it was like to be a woman in that era, what the plate tectonics revolution was like to live through, and how little we knew about the ocean floor (which is still pretty much true -- Venus is >1000x better mapped than the ocean floor).

Caveat: Did have a few minor errors.... gneiss as a type of granite?
Sep 07, 2015 Cece rated it it was ok
The subject of this book is fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about Marie Tharp. However, although Felt clearly immersed herself in her subject and did an overwhelming amount of research, this book is neither a scholarly biography nor historic narrative, although at different times it tries to be one or the other. The tense wanders painfully, and the flights-of-fancy descriptions of possible scenes from Marie's life sometimes become annoying. I was distracted from the actual story of Marie's l ...more
Hali Felt recreates the personal and professional space of Maria Tharp who was a prime force behind the first really complete and compelling maps of the ocean floor, a necessary and essential ingredient in establishing the movement of continents and the theory of plate tectonics. In the introduction, Felt makes it clear that she fills in some gaps, especially concerning Tharp's early life, which gives the book a story quality which is authentic. In a few places she summarizes important geologica ...more
Oct 05, 2012 Holly rated it it was amazing
I loved this book!
If you are interested in exploring the history of women in science, and the changes in scientific thought over the last century, then this book is worthy of your time. Hali Felt brings Marie Tharp and her partner, Bruce Heezen to life. The biography paints a picture of a unique and remarkable person, how she came to be, and her accomplishments before the digital age, when a woman was not invited, or acknowledged, in the scientific community.
Nov 24, 2014 Hipalevsky rated it it was amazing
A vivid biography bringing to life an incredible woman and her important contributions to our modern scientific understanding of the world.
Mar 22, 2014 Erica rated it it was amazing
As a cartographer who has an interest in geology, this book was a real treat. I never knew that Marie Tharp essentially asserted the presence of a rift valley in the Atlantic Ocean that was seismically active through her dedication in mapping the ocean floor. Her maps aided in the transformation of plate tectonics from a hypothesis to a theory.
This book does great service to women in science and Hali Felt crafts Marie's story with such nuanced psychological detail that you really empathize with
Aug 13, 2016 Holly rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
What an exciting book for me. Hali Felt has written a very personal biography of Marie Tharp (it's about the writer's obsessions almost as much as Tharp and continental drift and plate tectonics and academic careers and women's neglected contributions to science). All biographers imagine themselves into their subject's life, I think, Felt just does this more honestly and unabashedly, asking her readers to indulge her, to patiently ride out her imaginings - because they help tell the story. The R ...more
Keira Hale
Jun 05, 2016 Keira Hale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was an Amazing look in to Marie Tharp's life when women were considered second place to men. She had a drive and God put the right person in her life to make her dream come true. A must read.
Elly Sands
Aug 01, 2012 Elly Sands rated it really liked it
I wanted to read this book because I know minimal about the ocean let alone it's floor! I learned a lot! I was afraid the book might be too dry but the author did a wonderful job creating a story around this woman, Marie Tharp. An intelligent, eccentric, dedicated woman passionate about map making. She loved creating maps even of her own home. It's a shame she was not given the attention she deserved in being the first person to create a map of the ocean floor but she was honored later in life. ...more
Marie Tharp's life story is worth telling, and the author does so well, consciously using literary techniques parallel to those Marie used to create the first scientific maps of the ocean floor that supported the new theory of plate tectonics--extrapolate to fill in unknown areas based upon what seems reasonable. A social misfit, Marie Tharp made a huge impact on science and ended her life with devoted "Tharpophiles" surrounding her. She loved her science and her partner in life and research; he ...more
Mar 02, 2013 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Hali Felt did an amazing job in research on Marie Tharp and her contribution to our knowledge of our oceans, her personal life,and her relationships with her mostly male colleagues,who did not often give her the credit she deserved.Interesting commentary on the politics and academic restraints that woman faced in the early and mid 20th century even as they were just as educated and knowledgeable as the men they worked with.A great read!
Dec 15, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't read a lot of biographies, but this one was interesting. Not least, the fact that plate tectonics was not well established as a theory until the 1960s was fairly shocking to me.

Marie Tharp's trials and tribulations as a woman in science were great reading.

The author interjected herself into the story on occasion, which was sometimes effective but in a few cases quite annoying.
Dec 30, 2013 SA rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Really more of a 3.5. This was an incredible story, both in terms of Marie Tharp's biography, but more strikingly, her work mapping the ocean floor using readings from sonograms, her crazy amazing brain, and decades of dedication and patience. Given that I knew little about how exactly the topography of the ocean floor was constructed, I was happy to have read this book and learn so much from it.
Jan 04, 2015 Lilly rated it it was ok
I read most of this book but finally gave up on it. The author focused far too much on the alleged relationship between Marie and Bruce Heezen. As a geoscientist, I am interested in Marie's incredible work, not her personal relationships. I gave up when the book just became chapter after chapter of pondering about Marie's love life. Too bad, the book had potential.
Jun 27, 2013 Thom rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Five stars for the subject matter - the story of Marie Tharpe needs to be told, and besides I've always loved the ocean floor and plate tectonics. Three stars for the somewhat unusual biographical format, which features the author as much as the subject. Would have preferred a straight up biography or a straight up historical fiction to this hybrid.
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Hali Felt teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa and has completed residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and Portland Writers in the Schools. In the past, she has reported for the Columbia Journalism Review and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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