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The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

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MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager interweaves the story of her search for meaning and solace after losing her first husband to cancer, her unflagging search for an Earth-like exoplanet, and her unexpected discovery of new love.

Sara Seager has made it her life's work to peer into the spaces around stars--looking for exoplanets outside our solar system, hoping to find the one-in-a-billion world enough like ours to sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life became an empty, lightless space. Suddenly she was the single mother of two young boys, a widow at forty, clinging to three crumpled pages of instructions her husband had written for things like grocery shopping--things he had done while she did pioneering work as a planetary scientist at MIT. She became painfully conscious of her Asperger's, which before losing her husband had felt more like background noise. She felt, for the first time, alone in the universe.

In this probing, invigoratingly honest memoir, Seager tells the story of how, as she stumblingly navigated the world of grief, she also kept looking for other worlds. She continues to develop groundbreaking projects, such as the Starshade, a sunflower-shaped instrument that, when launched into space, unfurls itself so as to block planet-obscuring starlight, and she takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets. At the same time, she discovers what feels every bit as wondrous: other people, reaching out across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering consolation and advice; and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match with an amateur astronomer.

Equally attuned to the wonders of deep space and human connection, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own light in the dark.

308 pages, Hardcover

First published August 18, 2020

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Sara Seager

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 436 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
August 12, 2020
I thought this was a terrific memoir. A combination of the search for new worlds, planets and a grieving widow and mother to two young boys trying to keep it together. A widows club with some terrific women help her immensely. Her work kept her centered, but since her deceased husband was the main caregiver and keeper of the house, she had much to learn. A beautiful story, and a sorrowful one. How she met her husband, her love of the stars that propelled her into her career. Learned about space, exoplanets, the struggles to invent better equipment, to find more planets. We can't possibly be the only ones, can we?

Nicely told, a story of life and death. Ultimately a story of hope because life wasn't done with her yet. She even finds out something about her own self she had never known.

ARC from bookbrowse.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
December 23, 2022
The Year of Women--in which I'm devoting 2021 to reading female authors only--has taken a summer break while I start work on a new novel. As part of my research, I wanted to read about a contemporary woman in the male-dominated field of astronomy. A compelling story would have to come from that. The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir is by Sara Seager, exoplanet hunter and MIT professor who among her professional honors has been profiled by the New York Times with the headline "The Woman Who Might Find Us Another Earth."

I was hesitant because the book (published in 2020) deals with grief and Dr. Seager's recovery following the death of her husband in 2011. I wanted to read about space exploration, not sadness or support groups. I'm so glad I did. This memoir one of the best books I've read in the year of women. Not only did Dr. Seager offer an incredible amount of detail about what an astronomer knows and what she experiences, but she's a fantastic writer, weaving the fascinating story of her professional life with the surprisingly intimate story of her love life and how she's survived in both.

-- I can trace my love, too. Why stars instead of horses, or boys, or hockey? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe it's because the stars are the antithesis of darkness, of abusive stepfathers and imperiled little sisters. Stars are light. Stars are possibility. They are the places where science and magic meet, windows to worlds greater than my own. Stars gave me the hope that I might one day find the right answers.

But there's more to my love than that. When I think of the stars I feel an almost physical pull. I don't just want to look at them. I want to know them, every last one of them, a star for every grain of sand on Earth. I want to bask in the hundreds of millions of suns that shine in the thousands of billions of skies in our galaxy alone. Stars represent more than possibility to me; they are probability. On Earth the odds could seem stacked against me--but where you are changes everything. Each star was, and still is, another chance for me to find myself somewhere else. Somewhere new.

-- Mike called me again and again after our trip, trying to convince me to go on another adventure with him. He probably called me twice a week for the better part of a month. I rejected him exactly as often. I thought I understood what he saw in me--I really was a pretty good skier--and maybe a little of what he saw in us. We had found plenty to talk about on our long car ride, and we both loved the outdoors. That was it, really. Did that warrant our spending more time together? The truth was, the highest register on the human-companionship spectrum at the time was Tolerate, and I didn’t bring new people into my life unless they gave me a really good reason.

-- I would be studying something a large percentage of the community thought didn’t exist or didn’t care to know about, and doing so in a way that made the impossible seem even less likely--like trying to prove that Bigfoot exists not by finding him or even his footprints, but by seeing his breath. How could we see the thin envelope of alien atmospheres when we couldn’t even find the world themselves? I was at a conference when a student from another school approached me in a whisper, asking if I wanted to talk to his adviser. He could explain to me why the Swiss signal couldn't possibly be a planet. A professor from Harvard, my own school, radiated a similar skepticism. We would never be able to detect many exoplanets, let alone their atmospheres. I remember feeling as though people were trying to rescue me from a cult.

-- All the while, Mike and I continued our simple shared existence. I would go to school and get lost in space and code. I would come home to boats and piles of paper. Mike grounded my life, long stretches of brain peace. We never raised our voices at each other; I think back on that time and remember the quiet. We spent our evenings and summers in the near-silence of our canoe, making several more long trips north, and at home we lived together the way we paddled: It wasn’t always easy, because in some ways we remained two people who were built to be alone, but we worked to find a natural rhythm. We spent weeks at our respective work and weekends at our shared kind of play. We hiked and cross-country skied and paddled our way across stretches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont. There was still something almost accidental about our connection, and the increasing seriousness of it all sometimes daunted us both. But our pauses never became breaks. Within a year, we had really started to set up camp.

-- “So, Sara, what do you do?”

“I teach at MIT.”

“What do you teach?”

“Planetary physics.”

“Wow. Um … what?”

“I’m looking for planets outside our solar system. Other stars presumably have planets. I’m looking for them.”


“Well, I’d like to find other life in the universe.”

“You mean aliens? You’re looking for aliens?”

“Scientists don’t call them aliens. Other life.”

“Right. So … Aliens?"

-- The fear at every school, palpable in the room, was that researching exoplanets was an intellectual dead end. Even among some astrophysicists, there can be such a thing as too much stargazing. A few dismissed finding exoplanets as "stamp collecting," an endless, meaningless search for new lights just so that we might name them. I couldn't convince the cynics otherwise. Despite the growing number of known exoplanets--by then about 150--people told me that I would never be able to achieve what I said I would. We would never see enough planets in transit to reach meaningful conclusions about them. The challenges would always be too great. My breakthroughs were mirages; my discoveries were flukes.

-- Near the one-year anniversary of Mike’s death, Melissa came over to my house. She led me into the kitchen, made sure we were alone, and told me that I had to pretend, at least, to be interested in men again. Until I started dating, until I looked at a man with the intention of putting my mouth on his, my grieving would remain incomplete. I would always be looking behind me, taking stock of what was missing. I needed to see what else was out there.

I knew what was out there. Thousands of billions of planets, orbiting hundreds of billions of stars.

What enthralled me about The Smallest Lights in the Universe is how Seager wove her professional and love lives into one compelling story. What surprised me is how strong a writer she is. She communicates astronomy very well and with a certain wit attached. She compares the best pictures of distant objects to the earliest video games: pixels in different shades of white. Contrary to what I thought, astronomers don't gaze through equipment and see objects in deep space. Their targets are too far away for anything we've invented yet to "see." The workarounds are as much art as science. Much like this great book.

Sara Seager was born in 1971 in Toronto, Canada. Her father was a family doctor who went on to pioneer hair transplants for men. Her mother was a writer and poet. They divorced when Seager was young and she grew up avoiding the temper of her emotionally abusive stepfather. Diagnosed as an adult as being on the autism spectrum, Seager was socially withdrawn but gifted academically. She earned her BSc degree in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Toronto in 1994 and her PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1999. Her research is focused on the discovery and analysis of exoplanets.

Her husband and father of her two sons was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and eighteen months later, in 2011, died. With the help of a group she referred to as The Widows of Concord, Seager recovered and ultimately met an amateur astronomer at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's annual general assembly. They married in 2015. Dr. Seager is Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2012, Time magazine named her one of the 25 most influential people in space (below is the photo they shot for the issue).

Previous reviews in the Year of Women:

-- Come Closer, Sara Gran
-- Veronica, Mary Gaitskill
-- Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, Viv Albertine
-- Pizza Girl, Jean Kyoung Frazier
-- My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
-- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg
-- The Memoirs of Cleopatra, Margaret George
-- Miss Pinkerton, Mary Roberts Rinehart
-- Beast in View, Margaret Millar
-- Lying In Wait, Liz Nugent
-- And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
-- Desperate Characters, Paula Fox

-- You, Caroline Kepnes
-- Deep Water, Patricia Highsmith
-- Don't Look Now and Other Stories, Daphne du Maurier
-- You May See a Stranger: Stories, Paula Whyman
-- The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw
-- White Teeth, Zadie Smith
-- Eva Luna, Isabel Allende
-- Slouching Toward Bethlehem: Essays, Joan Didion
-- Eve's Hollywood, Eve Babitz
-- You're on an Airplane: A Self-Mythologizing Memoir, Parker Posey
-- The Beauty of Living Twice, Sharon Stone
-- Fade Into You, Nikki Darling

-- The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque
Profile Image for Maureen Connolly.
Author 1 book691 followers
September 21, 2020
Read this book in one weekend, found it difficult to put down! Sara Seager is such an interesting human - so genuine in her self-reflection. A genius astrophysicist, a young mother and widow - she has a knack for seamlessly taking us back and forth between the layers of her life as she learns her way forward in life. This memoir is a quiet, stunning achievement.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,097 reviews7 followers
August 27, 2020
3.5 stars

From being a little girl who only felt a sense of belonging when gazing at the stars, to a woman who becomes an expert in her field, Sara has always found it difficult to fit in and make friends.

When she meets Mike as a graduate student they just click, get married and have two beautiful children. But when Mike gets diagnosed with terminal cancer their life implodes into something unrecognisable.

Not long after Mike's death, Sara discovers a group of ladies who call themselves "The Widows Group." They became her anchors in a life that feels like it will never stop spiraling out of control.

Sara is a highly respected and recognized astrophysicist, yet she needs to somehow come down to earth and deal with faulty wiring in her house or a leaky faucet, all the while dealing with grief and a new life as a single parent.

I enjoyed the descriptions of progress made in the field of astrophysics even if a few sections felt borderline too technical but her passion for her work is undeniable.

Sara is very honest throughout the book, her journey to rediscover herself and her explanations about her work was very interesting yet I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me for years to come.

Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
614 reviews5,007 followers
August 30, 2020
In 2016, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature titled, “The Woman Who Might Find Us Another Earth.” It was a profile of astrophysicist Sara Seager who has spent her career looking for Earth-like exoplanets, or planets in other galaxies in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” (not to hot, not too cold, but just right) that have the potential to host life, even if it looks different than our own version. Even though she has the whole universe to search in order to get closer to meeting that goal, the prospect doesn’t seem to daunt her.

But in Seager’s new memoir, The Smallest Lights in the Universe, we are able to see the woman behind the breathtakingly vast science. We are able to look inside her universe. Through cleanly efficient, yet deeply emotional storytelling, Seager gives us a glimpse inside her life: a childhood during which she largely needed to fend for herself, her connection with her father but her estrangement from most of the rest of her immediate family, the way she fell in love with her first husband, the arrival of her two sons, the gradual and excruciatingly painful death of her husband from cancer, and finding a way through her grief after his loss. Through all of this, always acutely present alongside the dramas of her life is Sara’s career and her life’s work of finding the Earth’s partner in life, even after she lost her own.

This is a very well-written and moving memoir. The parallels she is able to draw between her work and her life are subtle, but give the book a really good flow. It’s borderline unfair how a woman so smart and so successful can also be this talented of a writer. She’s not afraid to be completely raw and honest about her grief - she takes you through what I imagine are some of the hardest points in her life, but with a grace and humility that shows a true strength of character. Whether you dig science or not, I think this one will impress you!
Profile Image for Kristen.
673 reviews33 followers
December 29, 2020
This book was so interesting and so compelling that I read it in one sitting; staying up past my bedtime! She observes like a scientist, writes like a literature professor; and keeps it real like someone with autism. The result is such an unexpected delight.
Profile Image for Nelson Zagalo.
Author 10 books334 followers
November 28, 2021
Perder o marido, ficando viúva com dois filhos, é uma experiência trágica com claros efeitos pós-traumáticos, mas usando a abordagem que a autora tanto gosta, a estatística, não é uma experiência nada incomum, nem agora, nem em toda a história da nossa espécie. Por outro lado, ser-se uma cientista de topo, premiada com uma bolsa MacArthur, a chamada "Bolsa dos Génios" no domínio busca inteligência fora da Terra, ou surgindo na capa da New York Times Magazine, com o título: "A Mulher Que Pode Encontrar-nos Outra Terra", é algo muito pouco comum, reservado a um número muito restrito de pessoas. Neste sentido, juntar as duas coisas poderia ter funcionado, poderia ter sido um 'memoir' distinto. O problema acontece quando de frente batem e chocam espetacularmente a emocionalidade e as relações humanas de uma família com a racionalidade e abstração do mundo das ciências exatas. Ou seja, Sara Seager é uma cientista brilhante e com certeza teria sido muito interessante ouvi-la falar do seu trabalho e das complexidades da sua ciência, mas ouvi-la expor enormes incongruências de ser esposa e mãe, não tendo sequer noção destas é doloroso. Se no final nos diz que descobriu, apenas quase aos 50, que era autista, a verdade é que não usou o livro, em parte alguma, para apresentar qualquer visão crítica das peculiaridades do seu comportamento. O seu discurso auto-centrado manteve-se igual, Seager é exatamente a mesma pessoa no final e no início do livro, nada mudou, e nesse sentido pergunta-se qual o interesse de um livro que não tem nada para dizer. Deixo alguns excerto de suporte a esta minha crítica:

Sobre a decisão de namorar com a pessoa que viria a ser o seu marido, e pai dos seus filhos:

“I had felt a tiny spark with Mike, but nothing like the lightning strikes you see in movies. Was a tiny spark a good enough reason to let him in? I didn’t think so. Besides, I’d be leaving Toronto at the end of the summer. Harvard’s Department of Astronomy had accepted me into its graduate program the day we’d gone skiing at Killarney. There was no point in starting something that would end before it had a chance to begin.”

E a diferença para uma decisão, pouco depois, para aceitar uma oferta de Princeton:

“The next day, John gave me a ride to the train station. I had no sooner slipped into the car and shut the door when he turned to me. “Sara,” he said, “I’d like to offer you a job here.” I looked out the window for less than a trillionth of a second. I turned back to him with the widest smile. “I’m so pleased to accept,” I said.”

A sua ideia de trabalho e de marido:

“Another team used radial velocity to confirm the finding, winning the accolades that come with being first. I spent two days crying (...) He [o marido] didn’t understand why being first in such an esoteric way mattered. His inability to understand my sadness was maddening”
Sobre a decisão de ter filhos, contra a vontade do seu marido:

"I wanted to have children -- Mike did not share the feeling -- Soon after Mike and I moved to Washington, I was pregnant. I was elated -- Two years after Max came Alex -- “I wanted to have more kids -- I tried not to feel wounded when Mike wanted to race off for the fastest post-baby vasectomy in reproductive history.”

Quem tomava conta da vida familiar:

“Mike and I had finished building our own solar system, with its own discrete centers of gravity: two boys and three cats living in a pretty yellow house. He would continue to work from home, surrounded by his marked-up books. He also took over nearly all of the practical duties that go into running a family. I was never good at those things, and practice hadn’t made me any better. I still struggled to pump gas into the car; basic household chores mystified me. Mike agreed, in action if not by marital contract, to take care of everything ordinary so that I could focus on the extraordinary. ”

Como geria o seu trabalho:

“My job was a magnet, one end or the other, the push or the pull. I found my sixty hours of work each week—maybe forty at MIT, and another twenty at home—”

Depois da morte do marido, percebeu o problema de não ter ninguém para tomar conta dos filhos, ou de si, mas o MIT cuidou dela, aumentando o seu ordenado para que pudesse pagar a uma governanta full-time:

"“Sara?” Marc said. “How much do you need?” Marc gave me enough. I’m not sure how he managed it, but he found the money for me to pay for more help. From then on, there would almost always be someone in my house—the company that I was paying to keep, and that in return kept me.”

A cereja chegaria depois, quando se envolveu num projeto de 18 meses, que requeria reuniões trimestrais noutro estado, a sua reação foi dizer que não se levava em conta a vida de quem tinha filhos, como se até aquele momento alguma vez tivesse considerado tal, ou se tivesse importado com isso para com os seus colegas, indo a ponto de dizer que não só amava os filhos, mas também gostava deles!!!

““If the people who had written that proposal had walked through my door at that moment, they would have witnessed the hottest of meltdowns. I would have scolded them for the cold, universal presumptions they made about how the rest of us might live and work. My children didn’t have two parents or any other extended family nearby. They had me, and I had them. I had always loved them; now I liked them, too.”

Por fim, resolveu iniciar uma carreira de ataque à discriminação das mulheres!

“I told the organizers of the Probe-class studies that their call for applicants, however accidentally, was discriminatory -- I was still upset, and I needed to vent some more. I had long stopped hearing the internal whisper that reminds us to be polite. I had been asked by the Huffington Post to write regularly about women and science -- I began by writing about the explosion in our understanding of the universe -- Thanks to Kepler, we had determined -- that seventeen billion Earth-size planets orbited their own suns in the Milky Way alone. Think about that. Seventeen billion. But most of them had been found by men. Why was only half our species doing nearly all of the job?”

Olhando para as listas de novos memoirs no GoodReads, sinto que posso estar a ser injusto para com Sara Seager, pois provavelmente, apesar de todos estes problemas, o seu memoir será com certeza mais interessante do que os memoirs de Emily Ratajkowski, Gary Neville, Stanley Tucci, Hunter Biden ou Will Smith.

Publicado no VI:
Profile Image for Amanda.
7 reviews
January 22, 2022
This book was brilliant. I am strongly biased because I also wish to explore the universe (though not in Sara's exact field), and could relate to a lot of her experiences, but though Sara Seager is not a writer, she has a beautiful language. And more importantly, a beautiful way of looking at the universe.
Profile Image for A. Raca.
740 reviews153 followers
May 13, 2022
"Aşkı yeniden bulmak, acının dindiği anlamına mı geliyor?"
Profile Image for Kathy.
3,428 reviews190 followers
August 21, 2020
A wonderfully honest memoir from a gifted scientist working in the field of astrophysics.
Excellent read for those interested in young widowhood; the scientific research of space; child rearing challenges when one mate dies an early death; support groups for widows; MIT graduates/students and outdoor sports enthusiasts. Something for all those groups.

Library Loan
1,025 reviews18 followers
October 2, 2020
This memoir by a widow who is a noted astrophysicist is good and bad. She is a star in her field, winning awards, thinking the ways others do not and she marries a gentle man who just likes to be with her in the outdoors. When they have children, he stays home and takes care of them while she continues to star. She is socially inept and often very selfish. For example, once when she was offered a position at a different university, she accepted before she even talked to her husband about it. Her father was her lifeline and when he died, she leaned on her husband more and kept winning awards and being a star in this field of stars. But her husband became ill and she was so inept she could not research his symptoms, could not fix anything around the house, could not cook. Finally, at the suggestion of her supervisor, she hired people to help her with the two boys, her husband, and around the house. After her husband died, she fell apart. She could do nothing around the house, dwelt in sorrow, and was mean to everyone who came near her. So here is the important part of this review. The middle part of the book, where she continues to sink in sorrow and helplessness and is really not a nice person, is really awful. I almost quit but kept going; fixated on her sorrow and depression, I guess. I just could not understand how a woman with such a brilliant mind could be so helpless and not care for her sons.
I wish I could say a miracle happened. It did not. But she struggled on, completed a few things, got more help from others, and slowly but surely became a useful citizen again. Some good things happen in the end - she gets a diagnosis that is helpful and she grows more mature in her 40s. The book is worth reading but this is not a quick read. You will learn more about space and all the instruments that measure things in space than you want to but if you hang on, you can rejoice with her at the end.
Profile Image for Suanne.
Author 10 books1,000 followers
July 18, 2020
The author of The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir, Sara Seager, is a pioneering astrophysicist and a professor at MIT. She also led NASA’s Probe Study team for the Starshade project and earned a MacArthur grant. Since childhood she’s loved astronomy and the possibilities that lie beyond our own planet. She’s always been a socially awkward loner. She is on the autism spectrum but isn’t diagnosed until adulthood.

As a child, her life balanced between two extremes. Through the week she lived in a dysfunctional family that included a stepfather she called “the monster”—whose vicious mood swings kept her on tenterhooks—and an enabling mother. Sara spent weekends with her father, a physician who understood and cared for her.

As Sara moves through college, she meets her first husband—another loner—named Mike. They blend because they feel comfortable being alone together. They share the same love of sports and Canada’s wide-open spaces. They marry and have two sons. Mike assumes the stay-at-home parent role, working as an editor, to allow Sara time to search for the stars. Suddenly, he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and they are forced to deal with his impending death, chemotherapy, and preparing their sons for a life without their dad. Sara finds herself a widow and single mom at age forty and must pick up the pieces of their shattered life and learn to deal with home repairs, car repairs, and the other flotsam and jetsam Mike dealt with.

This memoir is a luminous look at how this successful professional reinvents herself after this loss. She moves from being a loner to “collecting” people who provide support for herself and her family as they adjust to live without Mike. Among these are a group of women, the Widows of Concord, who take Sara in and offer emotional support and advice on the above mentioned home repairs, dating, letting go of the lost loved one, and preparing to let a new love into her life. Along the way, Sara—like all working mothers—must learn to balance work and home life.

A lovely, deeply emotional memoir—I sniffled through parts of it—by an astrophysicist who love for the stars provides a glue that holds her life together.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
Profile Image for Laura.
753 reviews93 followers
October 28, 2020
The metaphors practically write themselves: the search for light that has been Sara Seager's life's work as a rising star astrophysicist contrasts against the stark darkness of her husband's death of cancer. She lays out the black and white of her story right from the beginning then goes back to fill in the shades of color that tell a fuller story. It's really an absorbing story of immense grief and even larger hope, and the struggle to figure out all the mundane details in between. I appreciated her honesty about the struggle of parenting while keeping up with an ambitious career, loved the way she formed friendships out of necessity that became true bonds of friendship, and the story of all she's accomplished in her work. It's really a captivating memoir!
Profile Image for Jane Cairns.
89 reviews5 followers
July 18, 2020
I enjoyed being invited into Sara Seager’s life. I especially enjoyed learning about Sara’s work on exoplanets and the Starshade project. Having helped someone close through the grief process of losing a spouse, I am glad that Sara found support in The Widows of Concord. I would have liked to learn a little more about Jessica, Diane and Christine as Sara mentions that she became close friends with them, even having Jessica live with her and her sons. I also wonder if Sara ever sought professional help about where she fits on the autism spectrum. Overall, a nicely paced read about a slice in the life of a most interesting person.
Profile Image for Amanda.
178 reviews13 followers
November 24, 2020
A beautiful memoir of an astrophysicist who navigated a successful career, motherhood, and the death of her husband, all while not realizing she was on the autistic spectrum. I found this book fascinating, heartbreaking, while also full of joy and redemption. Toward the end, it often gave me goosebumps. I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those with the slightest interest in space exploration / stars / the universe.
January 19, 2021
From the beginning, I loved Sara Seager's writing voice. She's smart and insightful and a perfect blend of expert and accessible.

This book is 2/3 about the author's family life an 1/3 about her work. I thought both aspects of her life were fascinating. For a mathematically-inclined person, she describes emotions and interpersonal reactions beautifully. Even though I haven't experienced her tragedies or triumphs, I felt the weight and the thrill of them through her words.

I was emotionally moved by this book and intellectually stimulated by it. That's a five-star combination for me. I loved it.
Profile Image for Katie.
406 reviews31 followers
December 11, 2020
This was a really enjoyable memoir about Dr. Seager's various loves: her husband, her kids, her support system, and of course exoplanets and space.

As someone who has experienced (on a smaller scale) loss, grief, and success, as Sara has, I found her depictions of what grief does and how it affects the rest of your life to be among the closest to my own experiences of any literary depiction I have ever read. I am a big baby and I cried hard during the chapters describing her late husband's illness.

The writing was good, although I did find myself wanting to be forgiving about things like imperfect transitions between topics or metaphors that felt a bit off, as a scientist rather than a writer penned this book.
399 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2020
I received The Smallest Lights in the Universe as an Advanced Reading Copy from Book Browse. I was pleasantly surprised because my third least favorite genre is a memoir, and my least favorite genre is anything to do with science fiction or space travels. Seager changed my mind. Her persistence in the study of exoplanets, planets outside of our solar system, has led her to a tenured position at MIT, to the MacArthur Foundation $625,000 'genius" grants, and to work on NASA's Starshade project which is a telescope that allows scientists to see space differently than they could previously see with the Kepler and Hubble telescopes. What amazed me about the book is that her style of writing held my attention and made me understand the complicated aspects of space. Her story describes not only the life of a dedicated and intelligent woman in a field mostly made up of equally intelligent men but also the tragedies of her life. She survives a dismal childhood of separated parents, a feeling of loneness (later diagnosed as borderline autism) throughout her formative years, and the tragic death of her husband, Mike, at a young age. Their beautiful canoe trips through the lakes of Canada and the Grand Canyon, his willingness to move to Boston, and his belief in her career contributed to the sadness of his death. At the age just a few days shy of her 40th birthday, she becomes a widow with two small children. About three months before he dies and chemo ravages his body, he types her a guide to life without him. It includes everything from which grocery stores to hardware stores that he uses. On a particularly dreary day, she discovers a group of ladies who call themselves "The Widows Group." They become her anchors after his death. With help from many friends she is able to continue her work and required travels. During one of her presentations to an amateur astronomers convention, she meets her second husband. Although her sadness and grief throughout the story is apparent, the journey to what she is trying to find in her personal life is balanced with what she is trying to find in space Although she is highly respected in her field and has won many awards, she is a very humble person. I highly recommend the book.
Profile Image for Julia Alberino.
403 reviews5 followers
July 18, 2020
Sara Seager has had an extraordinary life so far. In this book, part memoir, part technical explanations of what astrophysicists actually do (the casual reader may want to skim these parts, though those of us who are fascinated by outer space will love them) she tells her inspiring story. A must-read for parents of daughters; the daughters themselves if they are teen-aged or older; and anyone who has ever felt "different" from peers. I had a hard time putting it down.
Profile Image for Maria.
Author 2 books15 followers
April 28, 2023
Sara Seager has written a beautiful memoir about her life as a widow and astrophysicist. The main topic that stood out for me was the struggle and sacrifices involved in trying to strike the right balance between home-life and career and deciding what matters in life.

I came to the book from a background of astrophysics, and I was expecting the book to focus more on that than it did. The parts about astrophysics and her career might come across as too technical and perhaps boring for many people. For me it was interesting enough, but I had hoped for something more.

At times the book was a bit too detailed and repetitive about all the arrangements and situations involved in being a single mom and a widow. Ultimately this feels like a book about being a widow, where the main character just happens to be an astrophysicist.

I enjoyed reading this book, but in the end I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s a book that shows how life is messy and coincidental and that choices aren’t always black and white. Also, that there is hope.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Literary Hoarders).
488 reviews17 followers
February 15, 2021
This was an interesting memoir. Sara Seager is a brilliant astrophysicist, and I enjoyed the portions of the book where she shared her professional work - be they frustrations or successes. Until now, I didn’t know what a rogue planet was, nor an exoplanet. I certainly do now. What surprised me most, however, was how much of this book was devoted to her grief after the loss of her first husband. I appreciated her candor, but actually wanted more science. I’ve seen other reviews that said that she comes across as too frank, and even arrogant. I understood these complaints, but attributed them to a diagnosis that is finally revealed in a quick snippet at the end. (Something that seems pretty obvious as the book unfolds.) She’s very matter-of-fact, and definitely keeps readers at arm’s length. Would I recommend this memoir? Not necessarily. It’s interesting, but was not something that I was clambering to pick up.
Profile Image for Tammy.
102 reviews2 followers
August 25, 2020
This is a memoir of Sara Seager's life, to date. She describes her life as a child, adult, dating, children, and the journey that life carries her on. Throughout all of this she maintains her love of the stars. Without giving a spoiler ~ she has to navigate some very difficult life situations, all while managing a very demanding career as a well respected astrophysicist.

Although I enjoyed reading about her life, I found it challenging to fully engage in the explanations on the science of planets. I believe more readers would be engaged if the language was simplified. Then again, if you are a science oriented person, this may be the perfect book for you.

Profile Image for Natalie Grange.
72 reviews
October 29, 2020
I found this memoir beautiful, raw, and honest. We don’t talk about grief and loss in our society. We don’t leave enough room for people to experience these emotions, have life altering experiences, and still feel like functioning humans. I cried a lot. I also laughed and saw myself in many of the emotions and situations Sara shared. I too have cried in grocery stores, and at the hardware store, parking garages and bathrooms. I still do. It is comforting to see women rally around each other in support and love. This is a beautiful compilation of life’s joy and sadness. The combination of which make us imperfect, yet whole.
Profile Image for Audrey-anne.
330 reviews21 followers
May 23, 2023
3.5 // I have very little interest and no knowledge on astrophysics, therefore half of this book wasn’t necessarily enthralling for me but I always enjoy reading memoirs written by people passionate about their topic and although I’ve never heard of Sara Seager before, I now understand she is a significant figure in her field. Also women scientists are still a minority so good on her for telling her story.
Profile Image for Wendelle.
1,607 reviews38 followers
March 29, 2021
This is such an amazing book from one of the icons of exoplanet research. An exquisitely intimate, candid, openhearted, revelatory memoir by the astrophysicist Sara Seager, which may not be like any other memoir one would read from a scientist. Instead of a reserved recitation of a distinguished academic career that is devoid of emotional and personal confessions, Prof. Seager's memoir is an open exploration of her deep psychological landscape, opening up honestly about her childhood of neglect and abuse from her stepfather, her peripatetic teenage period, her unconventional romance with her first husband which spun off first as a partnership between twin souls rather than an intoxicated infatuation, her uncertainty about her profession during graduate school, her struggles for tenure, her descent into the wells of grief during widowhood, and the revival of her enthusiasm for life with a new group of friends and mentors, a new cobbled-up family, and new, powerful love, as well as her ascent into leadership roles in exoplanet research. I appreciate that this isn't a super-diplomatic work that had been super-scrubbed for frank comments-- Prof. Seager isn't removed from criticizing colleagues when they deserve it. I would dearly like to know the identity of the UBC professor who was positively drooling over young female undergrads and gloating about them, that she mentions in her book.
Profile Image for Shannon Malone.
87 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2021
cw: loss of a loved one

this is one that i’ve honestly had to take little by little. Seager embraces the profound when discussing her studies as a planetary scientist but remains painfully honest when it comes to discussing her grief. it’s not metaphorical and you don’t have to fill in the blanks but like the universe grief is vast. Coming from Seager herself, the audio book brought me to tears MANY times, but i also found myself laughing and nodding along to her narrative of the twisted and empty state that grief leaves us in. I’ll definitely have to pick up a hard copy of this in the future.

“But when you lose someone, you don’t lose them all at once, and their dying doesn’t stop with their death. You lose them a thousand times in a thousand ways. You say a thousand goodbyes. You hold a thousand funerals.”
Profile Image for Waqas Mhd.
110 reviews15 followers
June 4, 2022
this was an unexpected random pick and it was a surprisingly one of the best reads. i did not think i would enjoy a memoir of an astrophysicist so much.

sara describes her life events in such a way that you feel connected with her, empathize with her, feel happy and sad for her and reading about her struggles make you want the best for her.

of course it’s because of a good writing that i enjoyed it and finished it within 4 days but more so because it was a real life story of a real woman and her struggles and achievements very openly shared with the readers. while you are reading it, it hits you from time to time that it’s not fiction, it’s real, that there is no ups and downs or unnecessary twists to make the book interesting. it all happened to a person in real life.

and of course she is an astrophysicist in search of new earth like exo planets which is all together another point of interest for me.

i am not sure if this book is a hit or it’s just me but i absolutely loved it. i think it could make a very nice drama movie as well.
Profile Image for Asta Schmitz.
150 reviews35 followers
February 7, 2022
Sara Seager is a badass. About half of this book I absolutely loved. It's well-written and a lot of it is interesting, exciting and moving. I just realised halfway through that my reasons for picking it up don't align with what the author wants to talk about. I wanted to mine it for her experiences of being autistic. Though it's present in the background, this book can't be construed as a book about autism. (I also got the sense at the end that maybe Ms. Seager should explore the extensive variety of the autistic spectrum instead of copying definitions from "autism specialists".)

Even though Seager often remarks on how people find her weird, off-putting or quirky, in other words: not normal, what turned me off was her conventionality in certain areas. She goes back and forth between things like hiking the Grand Canyon in one day (amazing) to getting her nails done and getting her picture taken by Chelsea Clinton's wedding photographer (eyeroll) for a dating website. What she writes about being a single parent to two boys is important, same thing with the way she as a woman is sometimes treated by certain colleagues. I do appreciate the honesty of the book but I wasn't interested in the domestic aspects of her life to the extent she writes about them and I just wasn't all that interested in her love life.

Still an amazing woman and an amazing life. (Maybe a bit early for a memoir? She's still got a lot of living left.)
Profile Image for Janet.
670 reviews15 followers
January 30, 2021
Dr. Sara Seager is a groundbreaking astronomer and planetary scientist. She's a professor at MIT, and has won numerous prizes in her field including the MacArthur Genius Prize in 2013.

Her life hasn't been easy, having been widowed at 40 with two young sons. She has always been able to focus and do what she can for her family. It's extraordinary that only in her 40s, after it had been pointed out to her, she learned and confirmed that she is on the autism spectrum. What an amazing person.
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