Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, is the author of Longitude (Walker 1995 and 2005, Penguin 1996), Galileo’s Daughter (Walker 1999, Penguin 2000), The Planets (Viking 2005, Penguin 2006), and A More Perfect Heaven (Walker / Bloomsbury, 2011).
In her forty years as a science journalist she has written for many magazines, including Audubon, Discover, Life and The New Yorker, served as a contributing editor to Harvard Magazine and Omni, and co-authored five books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake.
Ms. Sobel received the 2001 Individual Public Service Award from the National Science Board “for fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the general public.” Also in 2001, the Boston Museum of Science gave her its prestigious Bradford Washburn Award for her “outstanding contribution toward public understanding of science, appreciation of its fascination, and the vital role it plays in all our lives.” In October 2004, in London, Ms. Sobel received the Harrison Medal from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, in recognition of her contribution to increasing awareness of the science of horology by the general public, through her writing and lecturing. In 2008 the Astronomical Society of the Pacific gave her its Klumpke-Roberts Award for “increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.”
From January through March 2006, Ms. Sobel served as the Robert Vare Non-fiction Writer in Residence at the University of Chicago, where she taught a seminar in science writing while pursuing research for her stage play about sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, called “And the Sun Stood Still.” Her play was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club through the Alfred P. Sloan Initiative, and was also supported by a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
In May 2011, as the Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Doenges Visiting Artist/Scholar, Ms. Sobel taught a course called “Writing Creatively about Science” at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. Starting in 2013, she will begin a two-year appointment as the Joan Leiman Jacobson Writer-in- Residence at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Longitude went through twenty-nine hardcover printings before being re-issued in October 2005 in a special tenth-anniversary edition with a foreword by astronaut Neil Armstrong. Soon after its original publication in 1995, the book was translated into two dozen foreign languages and became a national and international bestseller, much to Ms. Sobel’s surprise. It won several literary prizes, including the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and “Book of the Year” in England. Together with William J. H. Andrewes, who introduced her to the subject of longitude, Ms. Sobel co-authored The Illustrated Longitude (Walker 1998 and 2003).
She based her book Galileo’s Daughter on 124 surviving letters to Galileo from his eldest child. Ms. Sobel translated the letters from the original Italian and used them to elucidate Galileo’s life work. Galileo’s Daughter won the 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science and technology, a 2000 Christopher Award, and was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in biography. The paperback edition enjoyed five consecutive weeks as the #1 New York Times nonfiction bestseller.
A sequel, Letters to Father, containing the full text of Galileo’s daughter’s correspondence in both English and Italian, was published by Walker in 2001. An English-only edition, a Penguin “Classic,” followed in 2003.
The PBS science program “NOVA” produced a television documentary called “Lost At Sea — The Search for Longitude,” which was based on Ms. Sobel’s book. Granada Films of England created a dramatic version of the story, “Longitude,” starring Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon, which aired on A&E as a four-hour made-for-TV movie. A two-hour “NOVA” documentary based on Galileo’s Daughter, called “Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens,” first aired on public television in October 2002, and won an Emmy in the category of historical programming.
Lecture engagements have taken Ms. Sobel to speak at The Smithsonian Institution, The Explorers’ Club, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The New York Public Library, The Hayden Planetarium, The Royal Geographical Society (London), and the American Academy in Rome. She has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio programs, including “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air,” and “The Diane Rheem Show.” Her television appearances include CSPAN’s “Booknotes” and “TODAY” on NBC.
She contributes an occasional column to Discover Magazine called “Field Notes,” describing what scientists actually do when they are “doing research.”
A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Ms. Sobel attended Antioch College and the City College of New York before receiving her bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1969. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from the University of Bath, in England, and Middlebury College, Vermont, both awarded in 2002.
A play based on Galileo’s Daughter, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker and directed by Sir Peter Hall, premiered in Bath, England, in July 2004. In October 2005, a play by Arnold Wesker, based on Longitude, directed by Fiona Laird, enjoyed a successful limited engagement at the Greenwich Theatre near London.
Ms. Sobel is the editor of the collection Best American Science Writing 2004, published by Ecco Press. She has served as a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction, and the Lewis Thomas Prize awarded by Rockefeller University to scientists who distinguish themselves as authors. She is currently judging the competition for the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.