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The Smallest Lights in the Universe Summary and Reviews

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

A Memoir

by Sara Seager

The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager X
The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager
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About this book

Book Summary

In this luminous memoir, an MIT astrophysicist must reinvent herself in the wake of tragedy and discovers the power of connection on this planet, even as she searches our galaxy for another Earth.

Sara Seager has always been in love with the stars: so many lights in the sky, so much possibility. Now a pioneering planetary scientist, she searches for exoplanets—especially that distant, elusive world that sustains life. But with the unexpected death of Seager's husband, the purpose of her own life becomes hard for her to see. Suddenly, at forty, she is a widow and the single mother of two young boys. For the first time, she feels alone in the universe.

As she struggles to navigate her life after loss, Seager takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets and the technical challenges of exploration. At the same time, she discovers earthbound connections that feel every bit as wondrous, when strangers and loved ones alike reach out to her across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering advice on everything from home maintenance to dating, and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match, not in the stars but here at home.

Probing and invigoratingly honest, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own kind of light in the dark.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Seager's openhearted prose is clean and exact, and her observations—'We want to be a light in somebody else's sky'—illuminate the human drive to connect with others. This wondrous tale of discovery, loss, and love is both expansive intimate." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The interior journey [Seager] traces here is as extraordinary as her scientific career. A singular scientist has written a singular account of her life and work." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"This thoughtful and affecting memoir of navigating life after loss reads like a comforting novel, inspiring others to follow their dreams and never give up on the possibilities of discovery and self-reflection. Readers seeking women's biographies and studies in planetary science will relish this heartfelt story." - Library Journal (starred review)

"It is the easiest thing in the world to resign yourself to what is, to curl around yourself and your circumstances. This is a book filled with hope and wonder, because falling in love after loss is a defiant act of optimism, much like searching the stars for life beyond our own little planet. You'll leave this book feeling possibility and inevitability, comforted by the knowledge that even in the dark, we are not alone." - Nora McInerny Purmort, author of It's Okay to Laugh

"Sara Seager's exploration of outer and inner space makes for a stunningly original memoir. Far from being dwarfed by the scale of exoplanets and galaxies, her most human tale of love, loss, and redemption is illuminated and given meaning by this backdrop... A beautiful and compelling read." - Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"I absolutely loved this book. It presents both cutting-edge science and the deeply human side of a MacArthur award–winning woman astrophysicist. While searching for other planets in the universe, she grieves for her husband who died of cancer." - Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain

"The miracle of this breathtaking book is the way Sara Seager's search for life in the universe mirrors her search for a fitting life here on earth. Who knew that so much love and beauty and hope could come from so much confusion and fear and grief? Who knew that the macrocosm and the microcosm could end up being the very same thing?" - Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations

"Seager's beautifully written memoir strikes the perfect balance, weaving a richly told personal story with a clear and accessible tale of the birth and development of a new kind of astronomy—the search for other worlds like our own." - Katie Mack, author of The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

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Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Cherryl V. (San Francisco, CA)

Amazing memoir
I knew I'd enjoy this book from the minute I read the description. Love, friendship, and astronomy? I'm in! Sara Seager has a clear-eyed and bracingly pragmatic voice that is nevertheless poignant as she shares her grief at the loss of her husband, and walks us through her path to healing. A wonderful book that celebrates sisterhood and reaffirms the courage, resiliency, and strength of women.

Wendy A. (Durham, NC)

Two Journeys
Sara Seagers' "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" is a beautifully written memoir about her two life journeys: outward toward space, as an Astrophysicist in search of other life in Outer Space and inward, finding her true self and then navigating marriage, motherhood, widowhood, and remarriage. The study of Astrophysics detailed in her outward journey: details, theories, and projects are made understandable by using analogies from everyday life. " Each star was, and still is, another chance for me to find myself…Somewhere new." Her inward journey is a "Guide to Life," which, for me, as a recent widower myself, found her writing both poignant and instructive. I almost felt like I was a member of The Widows of Concord, Sara's support group. A great, great read, so much so that my neighbors, one, an award-winning Astrophysicist and the other, an award-winning Biologist are in queue to read the book next!

Mark S. (Blauvelt, NY)

Finding Life in the Stars
Seager's memoir was a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating read. I love the way she bounces back and forth and draws parallels between her "life life" and her "work life." Not only did I learn about Seager's field, but her perspective on a wide range of issues struck me as both apt and timely. I also enjoyed reading about Seager's challenges as a working mother in such an incredible field and would have loved a chance to talk about this book with others. As such, this memoir would be great for any book club that enjoys philosophical conversations about people and what is truly important in life.

Peggy K. (Westminster, CO)

The Universe of Love
Contemporary memoirs are usually not my stock in trade, but I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to read it. "The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir" by Sara Seager is a moving story of one very accomplished woman's journey through a devastating loss and how she picked up the myriad pieces of herself to continue the roller coaster ride of life. Seager, an accomplished planetary scientist, is also a very skilled storyteller who deftly moves from the personal story of her love and loss, and then back again to her increasingly successful career searching the heavens for other life and other planets. A deeply inspiring story, it is one that should appeal to many women juggling careers and families. It is also incredibly moving; I found myself wiping away tears at many points in her memoir. The book ultimately serves to remind us of the centrality of hope: the hope to recover from painful loss, to find new beginnings, and, for Seager, to find those smallest lights in the universe.

Karen S. (Allston, MA)

Widowhood and astrophysics make a compelling read
I dd not expect to like this book as much as I did, and worried that it might be too manipulative and/or too scientific. The author actually found a balance that worked and keep everything quite readable. Someone who is rather extraordinary in several ways has written a memoir that made me empathize with her struggles and admire her professional perseverance in a scientific field I knew very little about that she describes poetically. (I still know very little about astrophysics, but a bit more!) Although the author was quite candid about many experiences, which is expected in a memoir, this is not one of those dramatic reveal-all confessionals. It is well written book about an unusual person's story.

Paula B. (Albuquerque, NM)

Balancing family with a dedication to science
This is the memoir of an extraordinary woman. The description bills it as a story about recovering from tragic early widowhood. It is so much more. It is a story of an astro-physicist in a quickly developing scientific area about which I knew almost nothing. Now I know a little more through the life experiences of a person who has largely been defined by this fascinating area of science. Her personal connections and life story are well worth reading. Dedication to her chosen field of study and the family she adores makes for a good story. Astrophysics is a complicated field, but the telling of this story allows the reader a taste of development in the area without overwhelming the story with mathematics and scientific detail.

...31 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Sara Seager

Sara Seager is an astrophysicist and a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT. She led NASA's Probe Study team for the Starshade project. Her research is focused on the search for the first Earth-like exoplanet, and she has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. She lives with her family in Concord, Massachusetts.

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