Web edition: August 15, 2008
Professor, astronomer, tourist attraction. Maria Mitchell held many
titles, but she liked tourist attraction least. Soon after discovering her
first comet in 1847, the American astronomer became a sought-after celebrity.
Her popularity subsided when she moved away from her native
This book chronicles the astronomer’s ascent to fame during the
mid-1800s. During her era, girls and women of a certain class were encouraged
to become educated. Science was ordered, and because women were near the bottom
of the social hierarchy, “studying nature’s hierarchies could only keep them in
their place,” writes Bergland, a professor at
Bergland follows Mitchell from youth to her professorship at
Yet, Bergland tries so desperately to reiterate her central theme — science was not always dominated by men — that much of the meat of the book, Mitchell’s story, is muddled in extraneous detail. The book is still a fun read, particularly for those captivated by romanticism, the role of women in science or the night sky.
Beacon Press, 2008, 300 p., $29.9