Mary Somerville (1780-1872), after whom Somerville College Oxford was named, was the first woman scientist to win an international reputation entirely in her own right, rather than through association with a scientific brother or father. She was active in astronomy, one of the most demanding branches of science in her day. One factor which made her career and reputation possible was the social composition of the world at that time. For early 19th century science was dominated not by salaried professionals, but by "Grand Amateurs" who paid for their own research using private resources. Unhampered by the lack of a university education, Mary Somerville was to science what Jane Austen was to literature and Frances Trollope to travel writing.
Allan Chapman's vivid account brings to light the story of an extraordinary nineteenth century scientist whose achievements for science and for women deserve to be widely known.