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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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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 320 pages
    Aug 3, 2021, 336 pages


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There are currently 42 reader reviews for The Smallest Lights in the Universe
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Shannon L. (Portland, OR)

The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir is Sara Seager's life as a stargazing child, a famed astrophysicist and a widow with two children at 40-years-old. She is a pioneering astrophysicist and a professor at MIT. She led NASA's Probe Study team for the Starshade project and earned a MacArthur grant. Her story is an engaging, deeply emotional memoir.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe takes us on a journey through many pivotal moments in Seager's personal life and career. As a child, she loved astronomy and the fantastical ideas about life beyond our own planet. She shares her love of nature and some of the barriers she had to overcome in her career.

Life was not easy. Seager grew up in a dysfunctional family that included a stepfather she called "the monster" and an enabling mother. She spent her weekends with her biological father, a physician, who understood her and encouraged her love of the stars. As a female in science, Seager was constantly having to prove herself to keep her position in the field. This was tough because she was socially awkward, and no matter how hard she tried, she struggled to fit in. Some consolation came when, as an adult, she was diagnosed with autism and learned coping mechanisms.

Her husband Mike, a writer, editor and true advocate of her career, worked from home and was a commited house husband most of their married lives. Then he came down with a rapidly progressing stomach cancer. With only a few months to live and a body ravaged by chemotherapy, Mike wrote her a guide to life without him. It included everything from the grocery stores he uses to the hardware stores. Just a few days shy of her 40th birthday, he died. Seager was now a widow with two small children.

The stars had always been her closest friends and the place she could look to for help and consolation. They had taken her away from her dysfunctional childhood and they helped her cope while Mike was dying. Neither the stars nor her husband's thoughtful guide could tell her what to do next. She did the only thing she knew how to do: research. Not long after Mike's death, Seager uncovers a group of ladies who call themselves "The Widows Group." They became her anchors.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe is a refreshing read about someone who is successful in her field and yet struggles with a self-doubt and the awareness of not fitting in. Seager is very honest throughout the book and she really captures how research and discovery can be equally frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Her style of writing held my attention most of the time. It is an honest, deeply personal account of pain, struggles, achievement and joy, and an insightful account of her life and work of an astrophysicist. It gave me some understanding of the complicated aspects of space.

I have to say that I found some of The Smallest Lights in the Universe difficult to read. Seager's narrative style is very engaging but her explanations of concepts in planetary science moved to the verge of "too much" or overwhelming. When she explained her projects I got lost in the technical details. If she had simplified her language a little more, I think she would reach and engage a wider readership.

My favorite message from the Seager's story was "those tiny lights." These were what gave her a mental escape as a child and focus as a young woman. They led her to form strong connections with nature here on Earth, the universe and her future husband. Those stars could take her away from him but helped heal her when he died. They gave her perspective when she carried on for her children. The stars remained true as she found the courage to start again.
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Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

The smallest lights in the universe
I thought this was a terrific memoir. A combination of the search for new worlds, planets and a grieving widow and mother to two young boys trying to keep it together. A widows club with some terrific women help her immensely. Her work kept her centered, but since her deceased husband was the main caregiver and keeper of the house, she had much to learn. A beautiful story, and a sorrowful one. How she met her husband, her love of the stars that propelled her into her career. Learned about space, exoplanets, the struggles to invent better equipment, to find more planets. We can't possibly be the only ones, can we?

Nicely told, a story of life and death. Ultimately a story of hope because life wasn't done with her yet. She even finds out something about her own self she had never known.
Laurette A. (Rome, NY)

In "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" astrophysicist Sara Seager has written a very illuminating and moving memoir. Beginning with her navigating the early stages of widowhood, she looks both backwards and forwards describing her early life in Canada where she first fell in love with the stars by looking through her backyard telescope, how she met her husband and her painstaking work in the journey to discover an elusive earth-like exoplanet. Strikingly honest and forthright she describes the challenges she faced in her personal life and her research. Well worth reading and suitable for book club discussion, this memoir is packed with not only fascinating information about our universe but with tidbits of wisdom too, such as the quote from her then 6-year old son Alex, "Live your dreams, face your fears, and pay attention to your surroundings." Good advice for all of us.
CarolC NC

The Smallest Lights in the Universe
This was the first book I requested to review , and I'm happy that I had the opportunity to "meet" Sara and learn about her life and her passions. I do read and enjoy some memoirs, and I share my grown son's continuing fascination with astronomy, but I wasn't at all sure what to expect from this book. What I learned and enjoyed was Sara's writing voice, the generously-shared intimate details of her life, and even the technological aspects of her work (although I didn't understand all of it). I have already recommended this memoir to my book club, as most of it is an easy read due to the writer's skill in weaving her personal life and public persona into a memoir that reads like a novel. Thank you again for the opportunity!
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.

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