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"[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book Review

Winner of the National Book Award for her collection of stories Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett has become one of our most admired and beloved writers. In this magnificent new book, she unfolds five pivotal moments in the lives of her characters and in the history of knowledge.

During the summer of 1908, twelve-year-old Constantine Boyd is witness to an explosion of home-spun investigation—from experiments with cave-dwelling fish without eyes to scientifically bred crops to motorized bicycles and the flight of an early aeroplane. In 1920, a popular science writer and young widow tries, immediately after the bloodbath of the First World War, to explain the new theory of relativity to an audience (herself included) desperate to believe in an “ether of space” housing spirits of the dead. Half a century earlier, in 1873, a famous biologist struggles to maintain his sense of the hierarchies of nature as Darwin’s new theory of evolution threatens to make him ridiculous in the eyes of a precocious student. The twentieth-century realms of science and war collide in the last two stories, as developments in genetics and X-ray technology that had once held so much promise fail to protect humans—among them, a young American soldier, Constantine Boyd, sent to Archangel, Russia, in 1919—from the failures of governments and from the brutality of war.

In these brilliant fictions rich with fact, Barrett explores the thrill and sense of loss that come with scientific progress and the personal passions and impersonal politics that shape all human knowledge.


“An elegant new story collection… Barrett frequently telescopes out of human frailty to an almost cosmic realm.” — John Freeman, Boston Globe

“Stories that shiver with an awe . . . realizations occur that can only be called sublime, everything preceding them consisting of the mundane stuff of the world transformed by the alchemy of story.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Elegantly contemplative…. A book full of strong women. . . . Recall[s] the power and mystery of Ms. Barrett’s Ship Fever, another collection of exceptional delicacy and grace.” — New York Times

“Starred review. Barrett’s consummate historical stories of family, ambition, science, and war are intellectually stimulating, lushly emotional, and altogether pleasurable.” — Booklist


Longlisted — ALA Carnegie Medal, 2014

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    "An evocative panorama of America…on the cusp of enormous change" (Newsday) by the National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever.
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    The Air We Breathe: A Novel

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    The exquisite, much-anticipated new novel by the author of Ship Fever, winner of the National Book Award.
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    The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work

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    Paperback, 2004

    In a splendid display of show-and-tell, 26 writers tell a story and lift the curtain to reveal how they did it.
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    Servants of the Map: Stories

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    "Luminous....Each [story] is rich and independent and beautiful and should draw Barrett many new admirers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
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    Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel

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    "A luminous work of historical fiction that explores the far reaches of the Arctic and of men's souls." —Denver Post