cover image The Stargazer’s Sister

The Stargazer’s Sister

Carrie Brown. Pantheon, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8041-9793-9

Caroline Herschel—William Herschel’s real-life sister and a housekeeper, research assistant, star pupil, and by her death in 1848 an accomplished astronomer in her own right—takes center stage for this historical novel featuring siblings who, between them, designed telescopes, identified double stars, and discovered the planet Uranus as well as several comets. Lina’s story begins with an unhappy childhood in Germany, where William and his brothers are trained as musicians while small, sickly Lina does household chores. Passionate about science, William introduces his younger sister to state-of-the-art scientific thinking and teaches her to read the night sky. Eventually he brings her to England to keep house, share his musical career, and assist in his amateur astronomical pursuits. Ingenious, visionary, resolute William designs a new kind of telescope; meticulous, hardworking Lina helps get it built. Together they move from Bath to a modest home in Slough that includes its own observatory, where they devote themselves full-time to astronomy. Then William marries and Lina makes some discoveries of her own. A fictional romance is added to this real-life story of an unusual woman, but it proves less compelling than the events documented by the Herschels themselves. By the end, it is the descriptions of constructing a 40-foot telescope and using it to sweep for undiscovered heavenly bodies that most vividly capture the Age of Wonder. (Jan.)