There has not been a coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States since 1918, so the upcoming celestial phenomenon on August 21st is exceedingly rare. It will be visible in cities across the country — Columbia, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Carbondale, Ill., to name a few. These books offer historical context and insight on the upcoming event. But beware: you may be tempted to impulse buy a flight to the city closest to you, if you haven’t already.
A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World
By David Baron
384 pp. Liveright. (2017)
In this book, the writer follows three eclipse chasers with distinct motivations for traveling to view the solar eclipse of 1878. James Craig Watson was a professor who hoped to discover a new planet; the astronomer Maria Mitchell was determined to prove that women belonged in the science world; and Thomas Edison, a young inventor at the time, wanted to test his tasimeter, a device that measured infrared radiation, and buff his credentials. The stories of these three enterprising scientists reflect the ambition and intellectual curiosity of the United States in the late-nineteenth-century, when the country was trying to cement its place in the international scientific community.
MASK OF THE SUN
The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses
By John Dvorak
312 pp. Pegasus Books. (2017)
For a more expansive look at how eclipses have been mythologized throughout history, turn to “Mask of the Sun.” The writer explains how and why eclipses occur and also recounts how people have interpreted and received the events. In ancient Rome, for instance, it was considered bad luck to have sexual intercourse while the moon obscured the sun. In the 17th century, astrologers predicted the pope would die during an eclipse; he did not, but the incident led to the banning of sorcery by the Catholic Church. They are also mentioned more than half a dozen times in the Bible, as well as Homer’s epic Iliad and Odyssey book. John Dvorak offers useful, engaging background, as well as a deeper understanding of what to expect this August.
By Jürgen Neffe
477 pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (2007)
This biography by Jürgen Neffe, a journalist and biochemist, opens by recounting a news report in The London Times on Nov. 6, 1919. A few months earlier, on May 29, 1919, Albert Einstein’s general…