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

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3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,083 ratings  ·  229 reviews
In the scorching summer of 1878, with the Gilded Age in its infancy, three tenacious and brilliant scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse. One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid ...more
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Liveright
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Always Pouting
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Another nonfiction book that wasn't bad but I didn't enjoy because of my own personal tastes. I got pretty bored reading about scientists trying to go out of their way just to observe an eclipse, and I couldn't relate with the authors clearly visceral feelings towards eclipses. I don't even get why properly measuring and observing an eclipse was even something that would put the US on the map and make our science community respectable because again I'm jut like wow the sun was blocked out great ...more
Tom Mathews
If I had any doubts that the world is still obsessed with eclipses, I need only turn on the television or look online or at a newspaper to set me straight. In two days Americans will see the most famous total solar eclipse in decades and everywhere I go people are talking about it. Granted, we no longer feel that we need to sacrifice virgins to volcanos to get the sun to return but in our way, we are still enthralled by a mystical attraction to the most astounding astronomical event most people ...more
Robin Bonne
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a history of the 1878 solar eclipse. I stayed up well past my bedtime reading this because every time I thought I had reached a good spot to put it down, something intriguing would happen and I would have to keep reading.

Until this book, I had never heard of Maria Mitchell. Her battle for women’s rights and respect in the scientific community were inspiring. She is a fascinating historical figure and I would like to find a biography on her to get a broader picture of her full life.

Side
...more
Blaine DeSantis
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I personally loved this book. As I sit in my home that is directly in the path of the August 21, 2017 Total Eclipse I can begin to experience to excitement that the 1878 Eclipse generated to a much less sophisticated society. So much has happened in the last 139 years in terms of exploration of the galaxy, the moon, the stars and the sun and yet this book transports us back to a simpler time, a time when people did not know that helium existed and that it is one of the two elements that causes t ...more
Katie
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting read after watching the total eclipse of the sun this summer - shout out to my friend Beth who sent me this book after we viewed the eclipse together! The author states that he purposely prepared and released this book to coincide with the 2017 American Eclipse. He focuses on the 1878 total eclipse that crossed America and some of the major players that were making efforts to travel and study the event.
We started by listening to this one in the car, but I would not recomm
...more
Badseedgirl
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was fortunate enough to live just a couple hours from the path of totality of what is being called 2017 Great American Eclipse, and was even more fortunate to have a Mom who lived in the path so I had a convenient place to stay. I purchased nd read this book to give me a better idea of what I could look forward to. Although I did learn a whole lot about eclipses, what I enjoyed most about this book was how very difficult women scientist of the time had it. I mean it really sucked being a femal ...more
Matthew
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This was a great history book to read if you plan on chasing the upcoming American eclipses in 2017 or 2024 or any other eclipse in the future. This is a timeless book. I was afraid it would be some rush job to try to capitalize on the furor this year, without a lot of effort put into it. I was afraid it would be a piece of crap. I read it aloud to my kids. We all loved it. It was great history-writing, standing alone. Whether following the Vulcan-chasing Watson, the feminine-advancing Maria Mit ...more
Dax
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars, nonfiction
Very nice. Baron uses the total eclipse of 1878 to frame the scientific progress that was just beginning to take off in America. He also includes some interesting tangents about the history of astronomy, tales about outlaws of the West, and the battle for women involvement in the scientific community. Through portraits of some of the leading scientific minds of the day, including Watson and Edison. I also appreciate the extensive notes and sources listed at the end of the book. Very well researc ...more
Laura
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm at 35% and I have no motivation to go further. The storyline with Maria Mitchell was interesting. The writing style didn't work for me. It felt like a lecture and came across so boring. It may have gotten better if I had actually gotten to the eclipse portion but I felt like I had already sentenced this book to its death. ...more
Alisha
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book perfectly captured the thrill of seeing a total solar eclipse, and gave me some interesting background on the scientists who pinned all their hopes on what the 1878 eclipse would bring them.

In the end, it was probably a lot more background than I really wanted, for instance, on Thomas Edison, whose invention (to be tested at the time of the eclipse) turned out to be just really...unimportant.

I did find it interesting to read about the female astronomer Maria Mitchell, fighting for wom
...more
Andie
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Appearing just before the total eclipse that will across the United States on August 21, 2017, this book deals with the total eclipse of 1878, the last time there was such an event across a wide swath of the United States. This year, there are reams of material to describe what is gong to happen on the day of the event, as well as detailed maps that show where one can go to be in the area of maximum total darkness when the moon totally blocks the sun. Back in 1878, things weren't so precise.

Auth
...more
Yibbie
May 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I really wanted to know about the study of this eclipse so I made it all the way through the book. but I didn't really enjoy it.
I did find the majority of this book rather annoying. It rambled so far away from the eclipse of events even remotely connected to the eclipse that I almost gave up reading it. It seemed that the author included every remotely interesting tidbit about anyone remotely connected with the astronomers. For example, we get the story of a little girl who looked through the
...more
Joel
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book after returning from my own total solar eclipse expedition in Missouri. I spent a couple of days driving each way, and booked hotels on Starwood Hotels’s website. I found an ideal spot to view it using NASA’s interactive online map – I got exactly 2 minutes and 39.6 seconds of totality, and checked the satellite weather on my smartphone with The Weather Network app. A hundred and thirty-nine years ago, however, such an expedition would have taken months to plan, required tons of ...more
Jeimy
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
The title lets readers know that the book will be about a particular eclipse, but the introduction left me wanting more anecdotes about earlier solar eclipses. Nonetheless, this was a satisfying read that focused on all the luminaries who gathered to witness the eclipse of 1786. It was fascinating to learn about the scientists who were making discoveries (planets, stars, comets) across the universe and the things they were racing each other to dicsover first.
Alana
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
My well-read hairdresser recommended this to me, knowing my family is getting ready to go camping and view this even this year. When the author was featured at a speaker at our local library, my husband and I decided to check it out and see if we could learn something. He was a dynamic speaker and sparked our interest.

The book focuses on three figures who were historically significant to American (and world) culture because of their involvement with the viewing of America's eclipse of 1978, incl
...more
Peyton Tracy
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic nonfiction account of the human and scientific experience of a solar eclipse. This book touched me on a more profound level than I ever expected and I definitely didn't think it would bring me to tears. (Several times, in a public park and an airport.) Thank you, David Barron, for this incredible book! ...more
Dan
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm really interested in books about 19th century science, especially the interactions with medicine, religion, philosophy, economics, and woman's rights. American Eclipse has it all, as well as a tie in to the recent solar eclipse that crossed the US in August. The book is well written and the science is well explained and easy to follow without being patronizing. The human tale of the various astronomers, colleagues, rivals and wannabes (including Thomas Edison), converging on the still wild w ...more
Jen
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I listened to this one in the weeks before, the day of, and after the eclipse of 2017. I think that experience probably elevated my review of this book.... I really enjoyed parts about Edison, the science discoveries in the 1800s, women in science and the description of totality but other parts of the book were a bit slow. This much is for certain: I am chasing the next solar eclipse in 2024.
Adam Christian
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a great story. THIS is what America, at its heart, is about. Progress, learning and leading.

Plus a lot of ardor, overhype and failures... but always pressing forward.

I hope I’m not the only one with this spirit or America has lost its soul.
Matt
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The summer of 2017 saw the publication of a rash of magazines and guidebooks in an effort to capitalize on the latest "American eclipse". I found it rather easy to steer clear of most of the noise, even if I did end up with about a dozen pairs of eclipse-approved glasses. The publishing of this book fell right in line with everything else. And nearly a year after the eclipse, I seem to have found myself tending to my own eclipse hangover. But as eclipse souvenirs go, you can do a lot worse than ...more
Lisa-Michele
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Don’t be fooled by the title, this book is about American science in the 1800s, and the 1878 Eclipse is just the hook. The author is an umbraphile, so he focuses on the eclipse, but you don’t have to. The history of science is too fascinating to miss, especially right before the turn of the century when Edison, Bell, and Watson were inventing things every few months. I also learned about the amazing women scientists, led by Maria Mitchell, a Vassar astronomy professor who fought for her place at ...more
Caren
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This was an interesting introduction to solar eclipses by looking at one particular eclipse in US history. Aspects of the natural phenomenon are told through the efforts of three scientists to travel West (at a time when the West was still rather wild) to view a total solar eclipse on July 29, 1878. Traveling from the settled East to the West (specifically to Colorado and Wyoming) was a challenging undertaking and an adventure in itself in those early Gilded Age years. The focus is on three indi ...more
Leslie
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This very timely account of the solar eclipse of 1878 shows how the study of astronomy and that event was linked to many things, from the American quest to be serious students of science (on the world stage) to women's rights to the quest to discover more planets...and more. It was interesting to see the different stories, which included inventor Thomas Edison, female astronomer and Vassar professor Maria Mitchell and other major scientists of the day.

One of my favorite quotes was about the lac
...more
Jennifer Stringer
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science
I had requested this book from the library to read in preparation for the big event in August. There were so many ahead of me that it didn't arrive until September. In hindsight I think that was a good thing - I could relate to the descriptions of shadow bands and crescent shadows under trees, Bailey beads and the rest on a visceral level. As someone who is seriously considering adding "becoming an umbraphile" -scientific word for an eclipse chaser, to my bucket list, it was interesting to read ...more
RMazin
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Where is the author of American Eclipse? This August, if he is not on a book tour, he will be heading to Wyoming to witness a total solar eclipse in the US. David Baron has a “case of total solar eclipse fever.” Who can blame him after reading his engaging account of the US solar eclipse in 1887? It was the beginning of the Gilded Age and the end of the Civil War. There were disputed Presidential elections, European elitism, a skepticism of science and innovation, superstition, fake news, warrin ...more
Emily
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very informative book about the eclipse of the summer of 1878 and three of the scientists (or rather, two scientists and one inventor) who observed the eclipse and wrote about it: James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison, and how the observations contributed to the U.S. taking its place in the world's scientific community. The book also discussed how some astronomers at that time believed there was another planet between the sun and Mercury, which they referred to as "Vulcan," and t ...more
Dave
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
We all remember the hype and interest of recent total solar eclipse. This books goes back in history to examine the eclipse of 1878, in a world that in many ways was much different than ours and in some ways very much the same. The book tells the story of several groups of renowned scientists in their quest to study and experience the eclipse. They gathered in the Rocky Mountains, as the path of totality took them to downtown Denver, the top of Pikes Peak, and Rawlins Wyoming. Then as now the ex ...more
Mary
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
American Eclipse is an indepth look at the history of the 1878 total solar eclipse, focusing on three American scientists, Thomas Edison, James Watson and Maria Mitchell. Baron highlights the quest which American scientists undertook to be taken seriously by their European counterparts and the common argument of the 1880's which stated women were ruined by higher education. Maria Mitchel paved the way for American women and suffered the many indignities of being viewed as the weaker sex. Thankfu ...more
Kathleen
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this in preparation for viewing the solar eclipse w my family in Clayton, Ga. and then work scheduled training and I missed it and was sad and avoided reviewing this book.

Really enjoyed the characterization of famous scientists from the period, though, and highly recommend to those who enjoy brilliantly interesting details, often forgotten or lost with time’s passing.
Cleokatra
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As an amateur historian and a professional scientist, with a PhD in spectroscopy, this book was a perfect blend of my interests. I'm used to working with very sophisticated equipment. I'm impressed with the sorts of measurements that were achieved with basic equipment in such an undeveloped setting. ...more
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David Baron is an award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster. A former science correspondent for NPR and former science editor for PRI’s The World, he has traveled to every continent and more than 50 countries for work and pleasure. Baron is also an umbraphile—an eclipse chaser—who has witnessed five total solar eclipses. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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