"A suspenseful narrative history... transcendent."
—NPR's Fresh Air
On a July afternoon in 1878, at the dawn of the Gilded Age and the height of the Wild West, the moon’s shadow descended on the American frontier, darkening skies from Montana Territory to Texas. The rare celestial event—a total solar eclipse—had been predicted by astronomers, who coveted the brief night-of-a-day as an opportunity to solve some of the solar system’s most enduring riddles. And so, in this era of train robberies and Indian hostilities, scientists grabbed their telescopes and raced to the West.
Among the intrepid band of eclipse chasers were three with much to prove. One sought to find a new planet, and what he perceived in the afternoon twilight would bring him worldwide fame and, ultimately, his own demise. Another astronomer—an exceptional woman—fought to demonstrate that science was not anathema to femininity, and her eclipse adventure would open a skeptical public’s eyes to what women could do in science. Meanwhile, a young inventor, newly celebrated, hoped to leverage the eclipse to burnish his scientific credentials, and what he learned would illuminate the world.
AMERICAN ECLIPSE tells the story of these pioneering scientists—planet hunter James Craig Watson, astronomer Maria Mitchell, and inventor Thomas Edison—who gathered in the West with an extraordinary cast of supporting characters on a day when the sun hid and far more was revealed. An untold tale of ambition, failure, and eventual triumph, the book brings to life the intellectual and technological flowering of late-nineteenth-century America, a period that laid the foundation for the country’s eventual rise to scientific greatness.