(K. Brent Tomer),
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. By Dava Sobel. Viking; 324 pages; $30. To be published in Britain by 4th Estate in January.
IN THE late 19th century an extraordinary group of women worked at the Harvard College Observatory. Known as “computers”, they charted the position and brightness of stars on a daily basis by applying mathematical formulae to the observations of their male colleagues who watched the sky. Harvard was unique in taking advantage of the burgeoning numbers of educated women in this way. When the observatory’s research was redirected towards photographing the heavens rather than observing them merely by eye, the duties of the “computers” expanded apace. Many of them would go on to extraordinary achievements in astronomy.
The work of Harvard’s female staff was paid for largely by two other women, Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, heiresses with an enduring interest in astronomy. Dava Sobel, a former science writer for the New York Times who made her name with her bestselling first…Continue reading