New memoirs bring celestial pursuits down to earth by depicting the challenges and triumphs of people who have devoted their careers to understanding the cosmos.

The Boy Who Reached for the Stars

Elio Morillo. HarperOne, June

Financial need brought Morillo and his devoted single mother from Ecuador to the United States and set him on a path that led to a position as a systems engineer at NASA, helping to launch the Mars rover Perseverance. The work was rewarding, he writes, while acknowledging the stress and long hours that led to burnout. (See “Effort, Teamwork, and Trust,” for our q&a with Morillo.)

Life on Other Planets

Aomawa Shields. Viking, July

The opinion of a white male professor convinced Shields—a young Black woman whose interest in fashion and the arts didn’t negate her passion for science—that she didn’t belong in her astrophysics PhD program. She pivoted to acting, but a decade later, a job as a desk operator at NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope returned her to her former field. She completed her PhD and today, as an astronomer, astrobiologist, and UC Irvine physics professor, Shields uses her theatrical training to encourage girls in STEM.

On the Origin of Time

Thomas Hertog. Bantam, out now

In what PW’s review called a “provocative if dense debut,” Hertog, a cosmologist and professor of theoretical physics at the University of Leuven, discusses his two-decade friendship and professional collaboration with Stephen Hawking and the theories they developed on the origin of life in the universe, which diverge from the ideas put forward in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The narrative intersperses heady theory with discussions between the duo and Hertog’s personal observations: “With barely a flicker of motion, he breathed so much life into our conversation,” he writes.


Sarafina El-Badry Nance. Dutton, June

As a child growing up in Texas, El-Badry Nance had parents who supported her academic interests but heard from others that girls weren’t cut out for science; she shut her ears to the negativity and cast her eyes skyward. The astrophysicist and women’s health advocate recounts the misogyny and racism she encountered as a female Egyptian American scientist, and the challenges she faced in navigating an unwelcoming field, all leavened with her love for the stars.

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