cover image Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

Hali Felt. Holt, $27.50 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9215-8

In 1952, geologist Maria Tharp started a scientific revolution that would change our ideas about how continents are created yet 60 years later hardly anyone remembers her name. Armed with only sketches of Tharp’s early life, Felt’s biography reimagines her progression from a nomadic childhood through scientific breakthroughs with a vivid, poetic touch, revealing an idiosyncratic and determined woman whose “vigorous creativity” advanced everyone’s career but her own. Too well-educated for secretarial work, but denied the opportunity to do fieldwork because of her gender, Tharp ended up drafting maps and crunching numbers at Columbia University’s Lamont Geological Observatory. There she met Bruce Heezen— the man who would become her metaphysical and professional complement— who was studying the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an undersea mountain range. Tharp’s maps, drawn from Heezen’s data, revealed an enormous rift valley along the ridge where earthquakes shook the rock. This supported the then-controversial theory of continental drift, but Heezen’s professional caution kept things low-key for years until the most diehard traditionalists accepted the growing evidence. With Tharp’s late years marked by solitude and obscurity, Felt, an Iowa M.F.A. now teaching writing at the University of Pittsburgh, must tease from mountains of documents, charts, and maps “the emotional blanks that are left between…the ephemera.” Agent: Wendy Strothman, the Strothman Agency. (July)