Check It Out: American Eclipse

Aug 16, 2017

Today, I’m recommending American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by former NPR science correspondent and award-winning journalist David Baron. As we prepare ourselves for next week’s first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. (coast to coast) in 99 years, Baron’s captivating story makes for an enjoyable and informative teaser. 

   On an unbearably hot afternoon in July of 1878, the moon’s shadow descended on the American West, darkening skies from Montana Territory to Texas. This rare celestial event—a total solar eclipse—offered a priceless opportunity to solve some of the solar system’s most enduring riddles, prompting a clutch of enterprising scientists to brave the wild frontier in a grueling race to the Rocky Mountains.

   With vibrant historical detail and drawing on his exhaustive research, David Baron reconstructs this extraordinary chapter in U.S. History. American Eclipse brings to life the challenges faced by three of the most determined eclipse chasers making the trek to the American West: professor James Craig Watson, who in his day was a well-known asteroid hunter, groundbreaking Vassar astronomer and women’s rights activist Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison—a young inventor and uncontrollable showman, who was hell-bent on proving himself to the scientific community. Nimbly hopping between their stories, Baron skillfully builds the tension, giving readers a vivid sense of the excitement, hard work, and high stakes that were at play.

Not only was the historic total solar eclipse of July 1878 a game changer for these three iconic figures, the eclipse represented a key opportunity for America to demonstrate to the world what it could do for science.

   In praising American Eclipse, bestselling author Hampton Sides stated, “In this delightfully readable work of science history, we see an ardent young republic testing its intellectual prowess on the world stage. Baron has chosen just the right moment, and peopled it with just the right characters. This fascinating portrait of the Gilded Age is suffused with the peculiar magic and sense of awe that have always attended eclipses, those fraught few minutes when day becomes night, time stands still—and anything seems possible.”

          Check out American Eclipse and other engrossing works of nonfiction like it at the Sioux City Public Library.    

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.