Even before the publication of Longitude twenty-three years ago, I learned about a group of women who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the nineteenth century, analyzing images of the stars to fantastic effect.

These ladies of “Pickering’s harem” aroused my curiosity, but I put them off while pursuing Galileo’s Daughter, exploring The Planets, and turning Copernicus’s idea for A More Perfect Heaven into a stage play called And the Sun Stood Still.

After several years’ research and writing, I’m happy to report that The Glass Universe was published by Viking in December 2016, and officially “launched” at an event in the old observatory building, among the half-million glass photographic plates still treasured by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. A Penguin paperback edition followed in 2017.


Sobel continues her streak of luminous science writing with this fascinating, witty, and most elegant history of the women who worked in critical positions at the Harvard Observatory…. Readers with only the most cursory of interest in the night sky will find themselves beguiled by Sobel’s prose and invigorated by this long-overlooked history of those whose resolute ambition paved the way for women scientists who followed….Learn these names and celebrate their greatness: Draper, Bruce, Fleming, Maury, Leavitt, Payne, Cannon. And Sobel, who soars higher than ever before.
— Colleen Mondor, Booklist
Sobel knows how to tell an engaging story.... With grace, clarity, and a flair for characterization, Sobel places these early women astronomers in the wider historical context of their field for the very first time.
— Publisher’s Weekly