Staff Pick

Spectrography is a way of studying stars by taking pictures that separate astral light into different wavelengths. The practice was pioneered by Dr. Henry Draper of Harvard Observatory in the late nineteenth century, but the long and detailed work of interpreting the images and classifying the stars was done by a group of women. In this long overdue tribute to Harvard’s “human computers,” Dava Sobel, author of the classic Longitude, brilliantly intertwines science, history, and biography, charting not only the advances in astro-physics from the 1870s to the 1940s, but following the progress women made in establishing themselves in a notoriously male-dominated field. The Glass Universe (Viking, $30), then, refers both to Harvard’s archive of hundreds of thousands of photographic plates and to the barriers women faced in becoming astronomers. The Harvard Observatory was more supportive of women than most; with fellowships endowed by Draper’s widow, the institution specifically looked for women with an aptitude for math, and its male directors gave them titles, publication opportunities, and credit for their discoveries. If they paid them less than men earned, Sobel points out that funding for scientific projects was always insufficient and unreliable. United in the quest to classify the heavens, the men and women of Harvard’s “little city of science” generally worked with and respected each other as equals, and it’s the work that Sobel spotlights here, documenting the many novae, variable stars, and much more discovered by women including Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne—names unfamiliar to most of us, but essential in forming how we see both the cosmos and the lab.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars Cover Image
ISBN: 9780670016952
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Viking - December 6th, 2016

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143111344
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Books - October 31st, 2017

Staff Pick

As anyone familiar with her work knows, Mary Roach has a knack for delving into complex subjects and writing about them with both a depth and a clarity that make them accessible to many readers. Roach also can be very amusing. All these traits are very much in evidence in her latest work, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, which as the subtitle suggests is about how the military prepares troops to deal with such combat challenges as exhaustion, heat, noise, panic, and boredom. Asked once by Peter Sagal of NPR how she picks her topics, Mary replied, “Well, it's got to have a little science, it’s got to have a little history, a little humor—and something gross.” There are some gross passages in Grunt, but overall the book is informative and entertaining.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393245448
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 7th, 2016

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393354379
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 6th, 2017

Staff Pick

In his enthusiastic examination of microbiology, Yong admits to having a “favorite” bacterium (mine is the one that gives squid a bioluminescence that matches moonlight), but in general he emphasizes the larger microbiome, the body’s equivalent to a landscape’s ecosystem. As complicated as the genome and as consequential, the human biome consists of all the bacteria, viruses, and other living organisms on the skin, in the gut, and anywhere else they can thrive. This system constitutes an “essential organ” that enables life and also determines so many aspects of behavior that it raises new questions about what an individual is—if such a creature even exists.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life Cover Image
By Ed Yong
ISBN: 9780062368591
Availability: Backordered
Published: Ecco - August 9th, 2016