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 and 2011, Penguin 2000), The Planets (Viking 2005, Penguin 2006), and A More Perfect Heaven (Walker / Bloomsbury, 2011 and 2012). She has also co-authored six books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake.
A long-time science contributor to Harvard Magazine, Audubon, Discover, Life, Omni, and The New Yorker, she continues to write for several on-line and print publications.
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 accepted 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 presented her with its Klumpke-Roberts Award for “increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.” Her 2014 Cultural Award from the Eduard Rhein Foundation in Germany commends her “for using her profound scientific knowledge and literary talent to combine facts with fiction by merging scientific adventures and human stories in order to give the history of science a human face.”
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. In fall 2013 she began a two-year appointment as the Joan Leiman Jacobson Visiting Nonfiction Writer at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Invited to stay on for a third academic year, Ms. Sobel is happy to continue her association with the Smithies through May 2016.
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 U. S. Naval Observatory, 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,” “Science Friday,” and “The Diane Rheem Show.” Her television appearances include C-SPAN’s “Booknotes” and “TODAY” on NBC.
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. In December 2015, she is to receive an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Bern, Switzerland.
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 Sir Arnold Wesker, based on Longitude, directed by Fiona Laird, enjoyed a successful limited engagement at the Greenwich Theatre near London.
Ms. Sobel’s own play, “And the Sun Stood Still,” was performed by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Colorado, in March and April 2014, with grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts. A radio play version has been recorded and distributed by L.A. Theatre Works.
The editor of the collection Best American Science Writing 2004, published by Ecco Press, Ms. Sobel has served as a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and the Lewis Thomas Prize awarded by Rockefeller University to scientists who distinguish themselves as authors.