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From one of the world’s leading planetary scientists, a luminous memoir of exploration on Earth, in space, and within oneself—equal parts ode to the beauty of science, meditation on loss, and roadmap for personal resilience
"Fierce, absorbing, and ultimately inspiring." —ELIZABETH KOLBERT
"[A] riveting book, beautifully written." —Washington Post
Named a Best Book of the Year by Christian Science Monitor and Science News
Deep in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, three times farther from the sun than the Earth is, orbits a massive asteroid called (16) Psyche. It is one of the largest objects in the belt, potentially containing the equivalent of the world’s total economy in metals, though they cannot be brought back to Earth. But (16) Psyche has the potential to unlock something even more valuable: the story of how planets form, and how our planet formed. Soon we will find out, thanks to the extraordinary work of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Principal Investigator of NASA’s $800 million Psyche mission, and the second woman ever to be awarded a major NASA space exploration contract.
The journey that brought her to this place is extraordinary. Amid a childhood of terrible trauma, Elkins-Tanton fell in love with science as a means of healing and consolation. But still she wondered, was forced to wonder: as a woman, was science “for her”? In answering that question, she takes us from the wilds of the Siberian tundra to the furthest reaches of outer space, from the Mayo Clinic, where Elkins-Tanton battled ovarian cancer while writing the Psyche proposal, to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where her team brought that proposal to life.
A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman is a beautifully-constructed memoir that explores how a philosophy of life can be built from the tools of scientific inquiry. It teaches us how to approach difficult problems by asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers—and how we may find meaning through exploring the wonders of the universe around us.
About the Author
Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a world-renowned planetary scientist and member of the National Academy of Sciences. She is the Principal Investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission, and Vice President for the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University, one of the top Earth and planetary science research schools in the United States. Among her major original research achievements are the discovery that the Siberian flood basalts caused the end-Permian extinction, the revelation that rocky planets are born wet, and the concept of “drip volcanism.” Asteroid (8252) Elkins-Tanton is named for her.
“Lindy Elkins-Tanton has led a fascinating life, full of wonder and discovery and also pain and loss. Her memoir, A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman, is fierce, absorbing, and ultimately inspiring.” — Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction
“A riveting book, beautifully written...With a brave candor, Elkins-Tanton examines all aspects of her experiences—personal and professional, the good and the bad—to plumb the very meaning of her life...[Provides] a ringside seat to the discomforts and thrills of a geological expedition.” — Washington Post
"A deeply personal and enlightening book of one amazing woman’s leadership and teachings in science and self-discovery." — Col. Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station and #1 Bestselling Author of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
"The principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission lays bare the challenges and rewards of succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated field and how the sublime beauty of the universe brought her strength and solace. ... Enthralling and inspiring. ... A fearless, riveting, and galvanizing book from a star in the U.S. space program." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Elkins-Tanton shines in her ability to render the process of scientific discovery in eloquent prose. … A wonderful paean to the beauty of scientific exploration.”
— Publishers Weekly
"[A] beautiful and inspiring memoir." — Christian Science Monitor (Best Books of the Year)
"A captivating story about an exceptional career and a remarkable life." — Ars Technica
"A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman is an inspiring tale of grit and grace, and a captivating study of leadership in changing times. Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a talented storyteller with a story that must be told. More than a memoir of how we explore other worlds, she has written an insightful narrative of how we live on this one. It is one of the finest scientific memoirs ever written." — DAVID W. BROWN, author of The Mission
"Wonderful. ... [A] sometimes harrowing, often heroic, and adventurous chronicle." — Planetary Radio
"Covers wide-ranging personal and professional terrain with depth and insight." — Nautilus
"Engaging. ... This memoir chronicles the journey of one woman in science but is also a rallying cry to make academia a more supportive and diverse workplace so that the research community can better address the societal and scientific challenges of the 21st century." — Science
"Engaging and candid. ... Spotlights the challenges and successes of being a woman in a male-dominated field. ... With wide appeal to a wide audience, this work provides a closer look at the human side of science." — Library Journal
"Elkins-Tanton explores ways to create better, more inclusive disciplines through curiosity, generosity, and collaboration." — Booklist
"It would be easy to recommend A Portrait as inspiration for others who have wondered if science is for them, but perhaps the book is more valuable as a source of insight for those who have never asked that question themselves." — Nature
"Moving. ... [Elkins-Tanton's] struggles with childhood trauma and sexism in her career lay bare the barriers that many women in science still face." — Science News (A Best Book of the Year)