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The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,124 ratings  ·  225 reviews
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-i
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published August 18th 2020 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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Robert Dudley I have just finished listening to an interview with her on CBC. She is an amazing person as well as well spoken. There are few scientist that can spea…moreI have just finished listening to an interview with her on CBC. She is an amazing person as well as well spoken. There are few scientist that can speak so well about their personal experiences and how these experience affected them and their career path. I find that most 14 year olds are really though and strong emotionally and so this book is appropriate for your daughter (?); just be prepared for some tough questions. I have added this book to my list of books to read. THe podcast can be found at

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Diane S ☔
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-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, ...more
Maureen Connolly
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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.
Sonja Arlow
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 Widow
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, memoir
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, t ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.

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Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: astronomy
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. ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kara of BookishBytes
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 b
Dec 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 illne
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 whi ...more
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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 liv
Julia Alberino
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: completed
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 ...more
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 appreciate ...more
Jane Cairns
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
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 professiona ...more
Aug 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
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 planet
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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.
Matilda Oppenheimer
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book...more than merely a memoir! Somehow Sara Seager manages to integrate both her life story and some basic astronomy into a highly engaging and very readable book. As good a book as it is, I will suggest two additions: (1) More pictures! There is one photo of the author on the book jacket. That's it. I wanted to see photos of the author's family/friends/pets. Also, it would have been helpful to see some photos of some of the scientific devices that she referenced. Photos or drawings ...more
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful weave of science and personal memoir. Tragedy and triumph, told without flinching.
Natalie Grange
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 s ...more
Karen Ng
It wasn't until I was about 1/3 into Dr. Seager's memoir that I realized how much I've missed good writing the last two years. Life is definitely unfair, when someone so achieved in her field of astrophysics is also an amazing storyteller.
If you enjoy a good memoir by someone who's gifted with words, along with fun tidbits about the planets and stars that built seamlessly into the memoir part of the book, this is the book for you. However, savour it slowly with a cup of tea. The sentences and p
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
It's not easy for a book to make me cry, but this one did ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I still marvel at what we know. First, the universe underwent an extremely rapid growth rate in a tiny fraction of the first trillionth of a second of its existence. That's why someone like me talks about the Big Bang rather than the Big Bang Theory. Second, the unverse is about 13.75 billion years old and still growing. We were born in a flame that has never gone out.
I'm amazed at how much I, a science-failer from day 1, learned about space and space exploration from this memoir. The author d
Feb 20, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, audio, 2021
I’m torn about this one. I really loved listening to Sara’s story in regards to her personal life. Her insights on grief and loss were so heartfelt and I loved the Widows Club. These parts alone could have been a nineties hit movie staring Meg Ryan. I got lost and let my mind wander a lot when she detailed her career. Not that it isn’t important and inspiring work, but my non-scientist brain just peaced out. I also couldn’t shake the fact that despite struggling immensely as a widowed mother of ...more
Elizabeth (Literary Hoarders)
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 sh ...more
Nov 17, 2020 rated it liked it
A good perspective on losing a spouse. She offered some good insight into grief and how she was able to move on. The telling at times was bittersweet and insightful but I often felt loss with her details about the universe. I am interested in the subject but she wrote it in a way that perhaps only fellow scientists would appreciate. All in all, a worthwhile read.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sara Seager has a brilliant mind in her field of astrophysics, and she has a gift for writing her memoir of marriage. Life has dealt her a rude awakening after the death of her husband Mike. There are also details about her work, her children, her father and her co-workers. She slowly learns to adjust to her unexpected life through advice from others, including young widows that meet to discuss their lives.
Lisal Kayati Roberts
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So interesting on every level! A very human story with a lot of fascinating information about the search for life in the universe. Sara is brilliant and engaging. I loved it!
Riley T
Nov 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
This was gorgeous. I was as entranced by the nuances of astrophysics as by the personal narrative - and it made me emotional a couple times.
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