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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

A Memoir

by (author) Sara Seager

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2020
Personal Memoirs, Grief & Loss, Astronomy
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Canadian MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager interweaves the story of her search for meaning and solace after losing her first husband to cancer, her unflagging search for an Earth-like exoplanet and her unexpected discovery of new love.

Sara Seager has made it her life's work to peer into the spaces around stars--looking for exoplanets outside our solar system, hoping to find the one-in-a-billion world enough like ours to sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life became an empty, lightless space. Suddenly, she was the single mother of two young boys, a widow at forty, clinging to three crumpled pages of instructions her husband had written for things like grocery shopping--things he had done while she did pioneering work as a planetary scientist at MIT. She became painfully conscious of her Asperger's, which before losing her husband had felt more like background noise. She felt, for the first time, alone in the universe.

In this probing, invigoratingly honest memoir, Seager tells the story of how, as she stumblingly navigated the world of grief, she also kept looking for other worlds. She continues to develop groundbreaking projects, such as the Starshade, a sunflower-shaped instrument that, when launched into space, unfurls itself so as to block planet-obscuring starlight, and she takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets. At the same time, she discovers what feels every bit as wondrous: other people, reaching out across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering consolation and advice, and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match with an amateur astronomer. Equally attuned to the wonders of deep space and human connection, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own light in the dark.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Contributor Notes

SARA SEAGER is an astrophysicist and a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT. She currently chairs NASA's Probe Study Team for the Starshade project. Her research is focused on exoplanets and the search for the first Earth-like twin, and she has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. She is from Toronto and now lives with her husband and sons in Concord, Massachusetts.

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Science & Technology
A Real Simple Best Book of 2020
"[Seager's] prominence and how she achieved it would merit a book about her, but her personal struggles fitting in and finding a balance between her work and life are what make this memoir so compelling, even for readers who know little about science. . . . The interior journey she traces here is as extraordinary as her scientific career. A singular scientist has written a singular account of her life and work." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, [Sara Seager] passionately describes her struggle to balance the job that had always been her identity with her new challenges at home. It's a beautifully written portrayal of life after loss—and the wonder that happens when you least expect it." —Real Simple

"In The Smallest Lights In the Universe, astrophysicist Sara Seager is revealed to be an astute practitioner of metaphor as both a form of reasoning and illustration as well as a source of artful emotional resonance. . . . Seager endows these experiences with emotion and poignancy using an idiosyncratic but accessible and resonant metaphorical language." —PopMatters

"It is the easiest thing in the world to resign yourself to what is, to curl around yourself and your circumstances. This is a book filled with hope and wonder, because falling in love after loss is a defiant act of optimism, much like searching the stars for life beyond our own little planet. You'll leave this book feeling possibility and inevitability, comforted by the knowledge that even in the dark, we are not alone." —Nora McInerny Purmont, author of It's Okay to Laugh

"Sara Seager's exploration of outer and inner space makes for a stunningly original memoir. Far from being dwarfed by the scale of exoplanets and galaxies, her most human tale of love, loss and redemption is illuminated and given meaning by this backdrop. A beautiful and compelling read." —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"I absolutely loved this book. It presents both cutting edge science and the deeply human side of a MacArthur award-winning woman astrophysicist. While searching for other planets in the universe, she grieves for her husband who died of cancer." —Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain
"The miracle of this breathtaking book is the way Sara Seager's search for life in the universe mirrors her search for a fitting life here on earth. Who knew that so much love and beauty and hope could come from so much confusion and fear and grief? Who knew that the macrocosm and the microcosm could end up being the very same thing?" —Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations

"Seager's beautifully written memoir strikes the perfect balance, weaving a richly told personal story with a clear and accessible tale of the birth and development of a new kind of astronomy—the search for other worlds like our own." —Katie Mack, author of The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

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