Summary and book reviews of The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager

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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  • Published:
    Aug 2020, 320 pages

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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.

CHAPTER 1

A Stargazer Is Born

I was ten years old when I first really saw the stars. I was mostly a city kid, so I didn't often experience true darkness. The streets of Toronto were my universe. My parents had split up when I was very young, and my brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time on our own, riding subways, exploring alleys. Sometimes we had babysitters barely older than we were. One of them, a boy named Tom, asked my father to take all of us camping.

Camping wasn't my father's idea of a good time. Canadians escape to "cottage country" as often as they can, snaking out of the city in great lines of weekend traffic, aiming for some sacred slice of lake and trees. Dr. David Seager was British, and he often wore a tie on weekends; for him, sleeping in the woods was something that animals did.

But Tom must have made a pretty good case, because the next thing I knew, we were on our way north. We went to a provincial park called Bon Echo, carved out of a small pocket of Ontario, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The author opens the book by describing rogue planets; she uses them as a metaphor for her children, who she says have gone "halfway to rogue" following the death of their father. What else in her life appears "rogue"? Who or what in your life could be described as a "rogue planet," with no star to orbit?
  2. Throughout the book, the author talks about the power of belief and of positive thought. Do you feel that belief is a type of magic? Why or why not?
  3. The author is an extremely successful woman in a field dominated by men. Was there a point in the book when you thought this circumstance was especially affecting her? Do you think the fact that she's a woman has had an impact on her career trajectory, for better or for worse? Why?
  4. Is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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As a recent widow myself, I 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 (Wendy A). 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 and public lives into a memoir that reads like a novel (Carol C). As an astrophysicist, her enthusiasm and devotion in attempting to discover life in other universes was captivating (Darlene G)...continued

Full Review Members Only (608 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The second half of her story gleams with insights into what it means to lose a partner in midlife, and just as the widows helped Seager feel less alone, her story is sure to help any readers grappling with a similar loss.

BookPage
In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, Seager shares a passion for the universe so deep that even this reviewer, a physics dunce, could grasp why she would spend her life gazing toward other planets. Analytical yet lyrical, Seager’s memoir is an examination of the parallels between searching for new life in the multiverse and starting over with a new life on Earth—the sort of connection only an astrophysicist might make.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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.

Kirkus Reviews (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.

Library Journal (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.

Author Blurb Nora McInerny Purmort, author of It's Okay to Laugh
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.

Author Blurb Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
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.

Author Blurb Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain
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.

Author Blurb Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations
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?"

Author Blurb Katie Mack, author of The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)
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.

Reader Reviews

Shannon L. (Portland, OR)

READ THIS BOOK!
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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

Laurette A. (Rome, NY)

Luminious
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 ...   Read More

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...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sara Seager and the Search for Exoplanets

Exoplanets that resemble Earth discovered by Kepler Sara Seager, the author of The Smallest Lights in the Universe, is an astrophysicist who served as a chairperson on NASA's Starshade Project, a mission to locate intelligent life on planets outside of our Solar System, a.k.a "exoplanets" ("exo" is a Greek prefix meaning "outside"). Exoplanets are challenging to discover, in part because the nearest ones are still light years away from Earth. As of this writing, astronomers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets from 703 distinct planetary systems.

NASA describes the goal of its exoplanet research program as "to discover and characterize Earth-like planets around our nearest neighbors, search for habitable conditions on those planets, and uncover signatures of life." They've used a ...

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