What are the odds that TWO non-fiction books on female “computers” (math whizzes) would make the best-seller list in the space of one year? Since I stink at math I can’t tell you the odds, but I can tell you that both The Glass Universe and Hidden Figures are well worth reading. (Note: I’m not able to review Hidden Figures because I didn’t get to finish the library copy I borrowed, but the chunk I got thru was super).
Dava Sobel, beloved author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter can certainly tell a fascinating story! This time she’s again talking astronomy only in the late 18th and early 20th Century. The Harvard Observatory employs various women to plot, calculate, check, prove, catalog and classify star sightings from their telescopes. As a librarian, I was absolutely fascinated, by the detailed work that went into classifying and cataloging each star, Wow!
But for me the book fell short–I wanted to KNOW these women. I wanted to know why they loved this often tedious, but crucial, work. I wanted to know their stories–why they were single (one was widowed), was the one mentioned as “peculiar” depressed? Gay? Garden-variety weird? I wanted to know MORE. Although I had taken a non-major’s astronomy course back in 1982 in college, I wasn’t very interested in the science. A “light year” really isn’t comprehensible to me. But women wanting more, wanting a career, wanting to be part of something larger than themselves–that would have resonated with me. Unfortunately, this is a science book and book of institutional politics–Harvard politics–more than a book about women. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s still outstanding. Just not what I wanted.
I do think this could make a beautiful period piece movie though. Shirt-waisted, lace-cuffed young women making important contributions, with perhaps a flashback or two to a suitor or a crushed dream for spice. That could be fun.
No matter, I don’t regret reading it and I do intend to read Galileo’s Daughter still.
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel