348 pages, 8 plates with colour & b/w photos and illustrations
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 humanity’s 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.
"Deftly balances the scientific and poetic"
– Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Soundings is an eloquent testament both to Tharp's importance and to Felt's power of imagination."
– The New York Times Book Review
"The publication of this extensively researched and very warmhearted re-creation of Tharp's life fills out a previously blank region of our knowledge of scientific history. One wonders what other treasures still lie buried in the deep."
– Britt Peterson, Bookforum
"Felt’s biography reimagines [Tharp's] 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."
– Publishers Weekly
"Felt's biography brings [Tharp's] contributions to life [...] readers interested in biographies will appreciate Tharp's remarkable scientific work. Recommended."
– Library Journal
"A complex, rich biography of a groundbreaking geologist who discovered “a rift valley running down the center of the Atlantic” [...] A well-researched, engaging account of an important scientific discovery that should also find a place on women’s-studies shelves."
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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 currently lives in Pittsburgh.