Ms. Sobel writes with an eye for a telling detail and an ear for an elegant turn of phrase. In a single sentence she captures how the women both maternally nurtured and intellectually dominated their male colleagues ... Ms. Sobel’s book [is] a joy to read.
By translating complex information into manageable bites sweetened with human interest stories, Sobel makes hard science palatable for the general audience. Even more than her 1999 book Galileo's Daughter, this new work highlights women's often under-appreciated role in the history of science ... Sobel lucidly captures the intricate, interdependent constellation of people it took to unlock mysteries of the stars ... Of necessity, Sobel strives to convey the nature of the astronomers' discoveries and achievements. And by and large she does, with admirable clarity. The fact that I found my eyes glazing over whenever she gets into the nitty-gritty of the women's classification systems heightened my respect for their ability to focus painstakingly on such details for decades on end. When it comes to these women The Glass Universe positively glows.
...[a] fantastic new book ... This is an author who has created a reliable name for herself finding hidden or overlooked stories in the history of science and finding the human beings in those stories, and The Glass Universe is her most winning book yet, a perfect fit of great tale and great teller ... Sobel fills in these astronomical accomplishments with confidently-rendered swaths of personal details, not just of the observatory's women but of all the characters that walk through her story.
...an elegant historical tale ... Sobel calls the photographs 'group portraits' of the night sky. The same terminology could apply to The Glass Universe, for it too vividly portrays a remarkable group, one in which these women are the stars.
Guided by a historian’s sacred principles, she lets the story emerge from the thorough research she documents. Sobel does not condemn or excuse or flatter or even analyze the characters. She does not interpret the past through the lens of the present. She barely interprets the past at all. Even her language emulates the phrasing of the sources, as though modernizing her account would distract readers, reminding them of the interloper who stands between them and sheer documentation. The result is a far more accurate telling, of course, and a much subtler one ... The author of [this] fine book help[s] us understand the socially transformative power of a defiant dedication to something greater than our mundane human predicament.
Sobel has a knack for a crisp narrative and a cracking story ... Human lives being infinitesimal specks in comparison to the stars, Sobel’s dramatis personae flare and die out like so many novae over the decades of her narrative ... It’s an admirable, rather than a thrilling read.
Afficionados of astronomy may be familiar with their names; now it is time they were known to a wider audience. Ms Sobel has drawn deeply from her sources, knitting together the lives and work of the women of Harvard Observatory into a peerless intellectual biography. The Glass Universe shines and twinkles as brightly as the stars themselves.
Sobel’s book is slow to launch but once the women do emerge, in their own words, the story comes alive ... Through these first-person glimpses, the Harvard computers come to feel like friends ... Sobel’s book places the Harvard astronomers at the center of the history of science.
Sobel doesn’t provide much guidance in helping us figure out which of Pickering’s female 'computers' were brilliant thinkers and which merely keen-eyed and persistent. For most of the book, we can’t tell whether Sobel’s point is that the women were being abused or provided a nurturing space in which they could prove their intellectual prowess ... As a defense of Pickering, The Glass Universe is fairly convincing. But that purpose seems too narrow to justify the book as a whole. Like the women who contented themselves with classifying the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars, Sobel seems more concerned with conveying raw data than theorizing about her findings. Even by the book’s end, we don’t feel as if we know these women as individuals ... At times, the author describes her heroines’ tedious work in such opaque detail that the reader feels as if she, too, deserves to be paid for her efforts ... Still, if you persist, you will be rewarded with wonderfully intimate moments.