Sobel begins her story in 1882 at a glittering dinner party held by Dr. Henry Draper and his wife, Anna Palmer Draper. Dr. Draper, a physician and amateur astronomer, died five days later, leaving Anna with a deep desire to continue his work.
Her support, along with that of fellow heiress Catherine Wolfe Bruce, made it possible for women such as Antonia Maury, Williamina Fleming and Cecilia Payne (who earned Harvard’s first Ph.D. in astronomy) to work at the Harvard Observatory and contribute to the discoveries of the day.
One of the pleasures of seeing history through Sobel’s eyes is her delectable prose and her ability to realize scenes from the past. Her new book is a compelling read and a welcome reminder that American women have long desired to reach for the stars.