Dante and the Early Astronomer

Published by Yale University Press in April 2019, Dante and the Early Astronomer is an exploration of the evolution of astronomy from Dante to Einstein, as seen through the eyes of trailblazing Victorian astronomer Mary Acworth Evershed.

“In an extraordinary new book about Dante (and much else) by Tracy Daugherty . . . the heroine is not Beatrice Portinari, but an Englishwoman from Plymouth named Mary Acworth Evershed . . . Far from being a straightforward biography, this book interweaves its subject’s multiple journeys–geographical, intellectual, emotional–with snapshot summaries of topics rarely brought together, including Indian nationalism, solar science, Christian dialectics, relativity and Virginia Woolf.  Daugherty’s style is lyrical verging on whimsical . . . the sections sourced from original letters and diaries are vivid, revealing not only an exceptional woman, but also insider details of what actually happened on field trips–the disasters, quarrels and disappointments not recorded in official reports.”–Patricia Fara, History Today, July 2019.

“This book looks into Mary Evershed’s work on [Dante] within the context of her life, introducing astronomers to Dante’s work and Dante scholars to astronomy . . . a story well worth telling.”–BBC Magazine, August 2019.

“The story of Mary Acworth Evershed (1867-1949) is a reminder that every once in a great while someone can carry on a career with one foot planted in each culture [the sciences and the humanities] . . . In recalling Mary . . . from the shadows, Daugherty shows us someone not at all distracted by ‘any gulf of mutual incomprehension’ between the two cultures, and for that she . . . deserves [attention].”–Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed, 6/7/19.

“At first glance, it seems an odd pairing of topics:  In what way could Dante, the 14th-century poet, be linked with astronomy?  But to my delight Tracy Daugherty–essayist, novelist, and biographer of Joseph Heller and Joan Didion–has uncovered a small gem within the history of astronomy.  Along the way, readers become acquainted with the British romantics, Australian aboriginal astronomy, the folklore of India, and brief lessons on the sun’s energy production and Einsteinian physics.  ‘Dante and the Early Astronomer’ is an eclectic and engaging look at the Victorian and Edwardian ages, from the perspective of minor-league astronomers working in the hinterlands.”–Marcia Bartusiak, The Washington Post, 5/24/19.

Dante and the Early Astronomer left me with pages of notes filled with newly discovered facts and previously unconsidered concepts, as well as ideas for further thought, and half a dozen books to be sought out and read.  It also left me with the knowledge of not only the existence of Ms. Evershed but a lively portrait of her life.”–The Well Read Naturalist, 5/23/19.

“Daugherty . . . combines literary analysis, history of science, travel writing, and astronomy to tell the story of Mary Evershed (1867-1949), a pioneering female astronomer fascinated with the poetry of Dante . . . [he] does an impressive job of capturing the intellectual history of a fascinating woman who crossed disciplines and centuries of astronomical advances during her lifetime.” –Publishers Weekly, 4/8/19.

“Tracy Daugherty brings Evershed to life.”–Nature, 5/8/19.

“In Daugherty’s wonderfully inclusive fusion of history, science, and literary criticism, the work of a most unusual woman comes alive in its true context.  An entrancing read.”–Andrea Barrett.

“A creative tale of time travel that connects the obsessions of a brilliant young woman and her celestial love affair with the sublime poetry of Dante.  Daugherty poignantly captures Mary Evershed’s sense of excitement, persistence, and dedication to observational astronomy while tracing her extraordinary intercontinental life journey.”–Priyamvada Natarajan, astrophysicist.