Hirshfeld, Alan 1951–

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Hirshfeld, Alan 1951–

PERSONAL: Born September 29, 1951, in NY; son of Egon (a mechanical engineer) and Margaret Hirshfeld; married Alexandra Helper (a physician), August 25, 1974; children: Joshua, Gabriel. Education: Princeton University, B.S., 1973; Yale University, M.S., 1975, Ph. D., 1978.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Physics, University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth, 285 Old Westport Rd., North Dartmouth, MA 02747. E-mail[email protected] umassd.edu.

CAREER: University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, professor of physics, 1978–. Associate of the Harvard College Observatory.

MEMBER: American Astronomical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, Sigma Xi.

AWARDS, HONORS: Power of Purpose Award runner-up, John Templeton Foundation, 2004, for essay "How Wonderfully We Stand upon This World."


(Editor, with Roger W. Sinnott) Sky Catalogue 2000.0, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), Volume I: Stars to Magnitude 8.0, 1982, 2nd edition, 1991, Volume II: Double Stars, Variable Stars, and Nonstellar Objects, 1983.

Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, W.H. Freeman and Co. (New York, NY), 2001.

The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, Walker and Co. (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Sky & Telescope, Astrophysical Journal, American Scientist, and BBC History. Also author of essay "How Wonderfully We Stand upon This World."

SIDELIGHTS: American author Alan Hirshfeld has held a strong interest in science from an early age, studying astrophysics at Princeton University and astronomy at Yale University. In addition to being an associate at the Harvard College Observatory, he has taught physics at the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth since the late 1970s. This interest in science also has translated into the written word; Hirshfeld published the first volume of Sky Catalogue 2000.0 in 1982 with coeditor Roger W. Sinnott.

In 2001, Hirshfeld wrote his first book, Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos. Drawing upon his years of study in the topic of astronomy, the author writes about the history and people behind the quest to measure the first distance from the Earth to a star. While the theory behind measuring this distance dates back to ancient times, it took thousands of years and countless failed attempts for astronomers to finally achieve this feat. The book's focus revolves around the people behind this quest and their individual stories rather than the theory itself.

Many critics responded positively to Parallax, citing the author's in-depth knowledge of the subject. "Hirshfeld's well-researched account presents tales captivating in their own right," wrote Isis contributor Marvin Bolt. Others lauded the book's broad appeal, finding Hirshfeld's approachable writing style and method of storytelling to be attractive to both novices and experts. The book "will appeal to astronomy buffs and curious readers alike," predicted Beth Livermore in a review for Astronomy.

In 2006, Hirshfeld published his next book, The Electric Life of Michael Faraday. This time the author turned to the genre of biography, telling the story of nineteenth-century scientist Michael Faraday. Born in 1791, Faraday first worked as a bookbinder, but was encouraged to pursue his interest in science. He later worked for the successful scientist Sir Humphry Davy, and eventually went on to discover that light, electricity, and magnetism are interrelated. Faraday also is known for inventing the dynamo, the precursor to the electric motor.

Readers and reviewers again lauded Hirshfeld's efforts with The Electric Life of Michael Faraday. For some, it was the author's passionate and intense look at this unique character from history that made the book compelling. Hirshfeld creates a "vibrant portrayal that emphasizes Faraday's qualities of wonder, acuity, and diligence," wrote Gilbert Taylor in a review for Booklist. For others, the author's approachable style of writing was the key to the book's success. The Electric Life of Michael Faraday "will engage both general readers and the more scientifically minded," noted Library Journal contributor Margaret F. Dominy.



Astronomy, November, 2001, Beth Livermore, review of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, p. 100.

Booklist, April 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Parallax, p. 1437; February 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 12.

Boston Globe, April 23, 2006, Susan Chaityn Lebovits, "He Seeks Out Science Converts."

Isis, December, 2002, Marvin Bolt, review of Parallax, p. 671.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2006, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 72.

L.A. Weekly, June 21, 2006, Margaret Wertheim, "Mr. Magneto."

Library Journal, February 1, 2006, Margaret F. Dominy, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 102.

Natural History, April, 2006, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2001, review of Parallax, p. 68; January 16, 2006, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 53.

Science News, April 15, 2006, review of The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, p. 239.

Sky & Telescope, August, 2001, George G. Gatewood, review of Parallax, p. 78.


John Templeton Foundation Web site, http://www.templeton.org/ (September 12, 2006), biographical information about Alan Hirshfeld.

University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth Web site, http://www.umassd.edu/ (September 12, 2006), professional information on Alan Hirshfeld.