Synopses & Reviews
Her maps of the ocean floor have been called "one of the most remarkable achievements in modern cartography", yet no one knows her name.
Soundings is the story of the enigmatic, unknown woman behind one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. Before Marie Tharp, geologist and gifted draftsperson, the whole world, including most of the scientific community, thought the ocean floor was a vast expanse of nothingness. In 1948, at age 28, Marie walked into the newly formed geophysical lab at Columbia University and practically demanded a job. The scientists at the lab were all male; the women who worked there were relegated to secretary or assistant. Through sheer willpower and obstinacy, Marie was given the job of interpreting the soundings (records of sonar pings measuring the ocean's depths) brought back from the ocean-going expeditions of her male colleagues. The marriage of artistry and science behind her analysis of this dry data gave birth to a major work: the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor, which laid the groundwork for proving the then-controversial theory of continental drift.
When combined, Marie's scientific knowledge, her eye for detail and her skill as an artist revealed not a vast empty plane, but an entire world of mountains and volcanoes, ridges and rifts, and a gateway to the past that allowed scientists the means to imagine how the continents and the oceans had been created over time.
Just as Marie dedicated more than twenty years of her professional life to what became the Lamont Geological Observatory, engaged in the task of mapping every ocean on Earth, she dedicated her personal life to her great friendship with her co-worker, Bruce Heezen. Partners in work and in many ways, partners in life, Marie and Bruce were devoted to one another as they rose to greater and greater prominence in the scientific community, only to be envied and finally dismissed by their beloved institute. They went on together, refining and perfecting their work and contributing not only to humanitys vision of the ocean floor, but to the way subsequent generations would view the Earth as a whole.
With an imagination as intuitive as Marie's, brilliant young writer Hali Felt brings to vivid life the story of the pioneering scientist whose work became the basis for the work of others scientists for generations to come.
"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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A compelling portrait of one of the most interesting "forgotten" women of the twentieth century, the scientist who mapped, for the first time, the ocean floor
Until Marie Tharp's groundbreaking work in the 1950s, the floor of the ocean was a mystery—then, as now, we knew less about the ocean than we did about outer space. In a time when women in the scientific community were routinely dismissed, Tharp's work changed our understanding of the earth's geologic evolution. While her partner, Bruce Heezen, went on expeditions to collect soundings (records of sonar pings measuring the ocean's depth across its entire expanse), Tharp turned this data into beautiful and controversial maps that laid the groundwork for proving the theory of continental drift. Tharp's maps showed for the first time that the continents were moving and had always been moving, and that what had happened over eons under the sea was as "visible" now as looking at the same phenomenon on land. Her maps have been called some of "the most remarkable achievements in modern cartography" and yet no one knows her name. The brilliant young writer Hali Felt captures the romance of scientific discovery and brings to vivid life this pioneering scientist who changed the way we view the earth.
“Deftly balances the scientific and poetic.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Soundings is an eloquent testament both to Tharps importance and to Felts powers of imagination.”—The New York Times Book Review
Before Marie Tharps groundbreaking work in the 1950s, the ocean floor was a mystery—then, as now, we knew less about the bottom of the sea than we did about outer space. In a time when women were held back by the casually sexist atmosphere of mid-twentieth-century academia—a time when trained geologists and scientists like Tharp were routinely relegated to the role of secretary or assistant—Tharps work would completely change the worlds understanding of our planets evolution. By transforming dry data into beautifully detailed maps that laid the groundwork for proving the then controversial theory of continental drift, Tharp, along with her lifelong partner in science, Bruce Heezen, upended scientific consensus and ushered in a new era in geology and oceanography. "A playful, wildly thoughtful writer" (Oprah.com), Hali Felt vividly captures the romance of scientific discovery and brings to life this "strong-willed woman living according to her own rules, defying the constraints of her time" (The Washington Post).
About the Author
HALI FELT teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa and has completed residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and Portland Writers in the Schools. In the past, she has reported for the Columbia Journalism Review and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She lives in Pittsburgh.