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Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor Hardcover – July 17, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

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


“Felt's enthusiasm for Tharp reaches the page, revealing Tharp, who died in 2006, to be a strong-willed woman living according to her own rules, defying the constraints of her time.” ―The Washington Post

“This is a fascinating account of a woman working without much recognition who used recorded soundings to map the ocean floor and change the course of ocean science.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“Felt is a playful, wildly thoughtful writer, who can extrapolate meanings about our view of the past from outdated scientific terms…that illuminate the text with the kind of evocative details that make the story of real life so real.” ―Oprah.com

“[Soundings] provides a memorable account of oceanography during the 1940s to 1960s: a thrilling time when so much was being discovered. And it celebrates the extraordinary life of Tharp as a woman and a scientist.” ―Nature

“[Tharp] is the woman who mapped the ocean floor, forever changing scientific understanding of the planet. Ignored and marginalized for much of her career, Tharp has at last come into her own.” ―Science News

“Felt has been able to perform the sort of data-handling magic on these mountains of memorabilia that Tharp earlier performed on Heezen's soundings--distilling a sharp and illuminating biography that reveals the profiles and contours of a life.” ―Natural History

“Felt follows the traces of Tharp's life by deftly balancing the scientific and the poetic.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Felt] wrestles complex research procedures and concepts into submission…In the same way researchers sound the floor of the ocean, Soundings finds the depths in Tharp. Both the life and the biography are rich in accomplishment.” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Hali Felt poignantly imagines a private life the way her subject interpolated the unseen deep: hauntingly conjuring what cannot be known firsthand. Tharp [is] a fascinating character in the saga of oceanographic exploration and deserves this admiring biography.” ―Bust Magazine

“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.” ―Kirkus

“Delightful…[Soundings] is an artfully written biography about a rakish and headstrong woman in the sometimes antagonistic boys'-club atmosphere of academia in the mid-twentieth century…This is an exceptional story told by an equally exceptional writer.” ―Booklist, starred review

“Biography readers who love discovering stories of fascinating, historically important figures should rush to find a copy of Soundings…Felt's mission is not to embroider or alter Tharp's essence, but to discover it, and she succeeds in this powerful portrait of a woman so driven that society could not stop her from changing the world.” ―Shelf Awareness

“Felt has done an outstanding job bringing Marie Tharp to life as an eccentric and colorful character…it's a fascinating human story that reads better than some fiction.” ―Story Circle Book Reviews


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (July 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092158
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert J. Stern on December 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It must be hard to write convincingly about science and the often-opaque people who do science if you are not a scientist. For that reason, Ms. Felt's effort to illuminate the enigmatic Marie Tharp is convincing and interesting. It is perhaps least illuminating about the talented but impenetrable Marie Tharp, but that is not for lack of trying. Other biographers gave up trying to capture Tharp but Ms. Felt brought her project to a most satisfactory completion. The work is more illuminating about the almost-bizarre Bruce Heezen and even more illuminating about how the world-class Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory rose to eminence. In a way, the most interesting part are her insights into its leader, Doc Ewing. Ewing was clearly a man used to getting his way and there was no one more capable of driving him mad - or at least out of LDEO - than Marie and Bruce. Especially Marie, her obstinence must have driven him nuts! On the other hand, we read a book ostensibly about Marie but at the end know almost as little about her motivations as we did at the outset. Still, it is a great read about the history of marine mapping and one woman's experience in science, at a time when doors were starting to open for a new generation of women marine geoscientists, even as they closed for Marie. That makes it a bit surprising that some of the other early women marine geoscientists are not interviewed about Marie. There were some, and some of them are still alive.
1) Bob Dietz - the man who coined the term "spreading seafloor", who published his Nature article a year before Hess published his "essay in geopoetry, the generous soul who referenced Hess twice and that Hess studiously ignored - is not mentioned.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the literature of the history of science we seldom get a glimpse at the personalities involved in scientific discoveries. In Soundings Hali Felt has applied a style that can only be termed intimate to the life and times of Marie Tharp - a style that is a blend of autobiography and biography. Perhaps it will be considered sexist, but Marie Tharp could easily be called the "mother" of Plate Tectonics. Yet her name often appears only in passing when the history of the Plate Tectonic revolution is told. What was it about Marie's life story that might have presaged her accomplishments, and, why, the author repeatedly asks, does she not rate a more prominent position in the history of science?
In the first half of Soundings, Hali Felt does a good job in establishing how Marie's eclectic early life and education probably provided the foundation for her unique and revolutionary approach to visualizing the ocean floor. But the author fails to document (despite several passing comments) Marie's "abundant other contributions" to marine science. Reading the second half of the book brought to mind images of Leonardo endlessly retouching La Gioconda. How significantly did Marie influence ideas that Bruce Heezen went on to publish and take credit for? What impact did the updates of her ocean floor maps have on the course of marine science after their initial dramatic appearance?
To her credit, the author does not dwell on discrimination as the basis for Marie's eventual banishment from Lamont. Sexism was certainly a component of the social atmosphere of Lamont, but it was not the primary driving force that defined status at the lab. That role fell to a hierarchical system based on education, friendships, and a sustaining (and perhaps fanatical) commitment to hard work and productivity.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the latest in a number of long overdue books that recognize the women who, assisted in, shared in, or in many cases made, fundamental scientific discoveries.

Marie Tharp devoted her life to the study of the ocean floor. A region that was less understood than the face of the moon. She took strings of data obtained from scores of observations by vessels of many nations and put them together into a map. The ability to see this data at a glance on a map changed geology forever. The current understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift comes directly from the study of her meticulous rendering of this data.

Pull up Google maps and take a look at any see bed. This woman mapped 90% of what you are looking at. On top of that she until very recently - after her death by the way - got very little credit for it.

This is a very good book. It tells in great detail the life of a brilliant woman and just what "following your dream" used to entail if you happened to be born female.

I recommend this book very strongly to anyone who has an interest in science or the history of social change.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an avid amateur geologist (who also happens to be female) I was thrilled to read this book. I was well acquainted with many of the men mentioned but only tangentially aware of Marie Tharp. As I begin my sixth year as a teaching assistant in our local university geology lab, I will definitely be sharing Marie's story with my students! Thanks so much to Ms. Felt for her dedicated research on this project.
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