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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Feb 5, 2019 - Biography & Autobiography - 592 pages
Figuring explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries—beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement.

Stretching between these figures is a cast of artists, writers, and scientists—mostly women, mostly queer—whose public contribution have risen out of their unclassifiable and often heartbreaking private relationships to change the way we understand, experience, and appreciate the universe. Among them are the astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who did the same in art; the journalist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who sparked the feminist movement; and the poet Emily Dickinson.

Emanating from these lives are larger questions about the measure of a good life and what it means to leave a lasting mark of betterment on an imperfect world: Are achievement and acclaim enough for happiness? Is genius? Is love? Weaving through the narrative is a set of peripheral figures—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman—and a tapestry of themes spanning music, feminism, the history of science, the rise and decline of religion, and how the intersection of astronomy, poetry, and Transcendentalist philosophy fomented the environmental movement.

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only the dreamer wakes
to find dismooned among the stardust
to figure and transfigure
the much that calls for more
to brave the light of the world II 8
that which exhausts and exalts I4 I
the banality of survival
shadowing the light of immortality
searching for totality
into the unfathomed 4 II
where splendor dwells
between the scale of atoms and the scale of worlds
between the time of monarchs and the time of stars
tracing the thread of being
from shoreless seeds to stardust

to gaze and turn away

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About the author (2019)

MARIA POPOVA is a reader and a writer, and writes about what she reads on Brain Pickings (, which is included in the Library of Congress's permanent digital archive of culturally valuable materials. She hosts The Universe in Versean annual celebration of science through poetry—at the interdisciplinary cultural center Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. She grew up in Bulgaria immersed in music and mathematics.

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