Emily Levesque, an astronomy professor at the University of Washington, trains her gaze on humans’ fascination with the stars in this engaging look at the field of astronomy and its practitioners who strive to enrich our understanding of the universe. Like many astronomers, Levesque traces her determination to study space to early childhood, when as a toddler in 1986 she caught a glimpse of Halley’s comet through the family’s backyard telescope. From that moment on, Levesque was hooked, even though she had little notion of precisely what professional astronomers do—or the obstacles she might encounter as a young female researcher in a male-dominated field.
In her first book for a general audience, Levesque sets out to illuminate her chosen field, often using humorous or dramatic personal anecdotes to explicate the research process, the history of astronomy and how telescopes actually work. This is no dry technical narrative. Levesque knows how to tell a story, and her conversational style and clear, easygoing prose bring readers into the action, whether it’s her own first experience of a total eclipse or another astronomer’s discovery of a supernova with the naked eye. Readers will learn what it takes to be granted access to a single night of observation at one of the world’s premier telescopes or to ride along in NASA’s flying SOFIA telescope—and what happens when things go wrong. This is also an introduction to the community of astronomers working today, many of whom Levesque interviewed for her book and whose stories help make her narrative shine. She even devotes a section to how technology may change the field for future astronomers.
While astronomy is an incredibly precise and technical field, the professional astronomers Levesque interviewed could almost always link their desire to explore the universe to a vivid moment of awe and wonder. Something, Levesque concludes, “drives us to reach outward and upward into the vast cosmos before us simply because we must.” Immensely informative and inspiring, The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers is the perfect complement to a summer night under the stars.