Boulder author David Baron talks eclipses, Edison and human experience



Nineteen years ago, David Baron decided he was going to write a book about total solar eclipses to release the summer of 2017, just ahead of the United States’ next total eclipse.

“I was a science correspondent for NPR at the time,” he says, in Aruba to view his first. “I didn’t actually go there on work, but I went there with my science reporter hat on, as something interesting to see from an intellectual standpoint. It just completely blew me away as a human experience. As a beautiful, glorious, spiritual experience, which I was not expecting.”

Baron was hooked, and sought out repeat opportunities to catch the shadow. Total eclipses happen about once every 18 months somewhere on the planet, but as he explains, the path of totality (a small zone over which the darkest part of the moon’s shadow falls) often crosses a very inconvenient part of the world. Think places like equatorial Africa or the middle of the Pacific.

“Any given point on Earth will see a total eclipse on average about once every 400 years, so if you’re willing to travel, you can get to them several times, or many times in your lifetime, but if you don’t travel, you will probably never see one.”

The Boulder-based journalist would fly across the world to catch four more total eclipses. Six years ago, he began work on that book, American Eclipse, which hit shelves in June.

He’d had no idea when he began researching what the emphasis was going to be, but he says he pretty quickly came to the conclusion that the best stories were in the 19th century. Total eclipses were really important to science at that time, and expeditions were being sent off to the far corners of the Earth to see and study them.

He says it was just happenstance that he found a story set in the state where he lives, with “some of the more dramatic scenes” right here in Colorado Springs.

“Frankly what first got my attention was Edison. When I learned that Thomas Edison was in the Wild West for a total solar eclipse in 1878 in the very year right after he invented the phonograph and just before he worked on the incandescent lamp, I thought, my gosh, there’s got to be a story there. But as I started looking into the other folks who came out to this region for the eclipse, the story just got richer and richer and richer in so many ways. I realized it’s not just a story about astronomy. It’s a story about America. It’s a story about that era and who we were as a nation, and what we were trying to become.”

When the total solar eclipse hits the U.S. on Aug. 21, the self-described umbraphile will be in Jackson, Wyoming, right in the path of totality. He booked his hotel three years ago, and convinced a dozen family members to meet him there.

“They’ve seen me as this lunatic member of the family for 19 years, and so now it’s my opportunity to show them why I’m so crazy about eclipses.”

Thursday, July 13, 6:30-8 p.m., Library 21c, 1175 Chapel Hills Drive, free, books available for purchase,

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