Raymo, Chet 1936–
Raymo, Chet 1936–
Home—North Easton, MA. Office—Stonehill College, 320 Washington St., Easton, MA 02357.
Author, physicist, astronomer, naturalist, columnist, and educator. Stonehill College, Easton, MA, professor of physics and astronomy, c. 1964-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—; Boston Globe, Boston, MA, columnist, c. 1985-2003.
Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction, Lannan Foundation, 1998.
(And illustrator) 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1982.
The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler's Guide to the New Geology, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1983.
Biography of a Planet: Geology, Astronomy, and the Evolution of Life on Earth, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1984.
The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage, wood engravings by Michael McCurdy, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1985, reprinted, Cowley Publications (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Honey from Stone: A Naturalist's Search for God, illustrated by Bob O'Cathail, Dodd Mead (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, Cowley Publications (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
(With daughter, Maureen E. Raymo) Written in Stone: A Geological and Natural History of the Northeastern United States, Globe Pequot Press (Chester, CT), 1989, 3rd edition, Black Dome Press Corp. (Hensonville, NY), 2007.
The Virgin and the Mousetrap: Essays in Search of the Soul of Science, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 1998.
Natural Prayers, Hungry Mind Press (St. Paul, MN), 1999.
An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2001.
The Path: A One-mile Walk through the Universe, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2003.
Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2004.
Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time along the Prime Meridian, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2006.
When God Is Gone Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, Sorin Books (Notre Dame, IN), 2008.
In the Falcon's Claw: A Novel of the Year 1000, Viking (New York, NY), 1990, reprinted, Cowley Publications (Cambridge, MA), 2007.
The Dork of Cork, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Valentine: A Love Story, Brandon (Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland), 2005, Cowley Publications (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
Former contributor of column to Boston Globe; contributor of column to ScienceMusings.com.
The novel The Dork of Cork was adapted for film as Frankie Starlight, distributed by New Line, 1995.
Chet Raymo, a former columnist for the Boston Globe and professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College, is a prolific writer of both nonfiction and fiction. Many of his writings have been an exploration of the beauty and mystery of the universe, contrasting scientific knowledge with religious faith. Graham Christian, writing in Library Journal, noted of Raymo's works that, "for many years, Raymo contributed essays of unusual deftness and lightness to the Boston Globe, and that same grace of mind and style illuminated his book-length writings."
Raymo has channeled his extensive knowledge of physics and astronomy into several books, including An Intimate Look at the Night Sky. Not only a guide to the stars, the book includes the author's meditations on astronomy from historical, religious, and philosophical perspectives. Calling the work a "delightful, inspiring introduction to astronomy," Gilbert Taylor added in Booklist: "Intending to engender a feeling of closeness with the universe, Raymo infuses his own sense of connectedness to the heavens into his summaries of the planets, the comets, and the other stuff up there." Carol Ryback, in Astronomy, wrote that "it's rare for a general astronomy book to offer a practical observing course (mixed with astronomical history) that also captures the majesty of the night sky with such compelling style that you won't want to put it down."
Another of Raymo's books that draws heavily on his scientific wisdom was written with his daughter, Maureen E. Raymo, an accomplished paleoclimatologist and geologist. Written in Stone: A Geological and Natural History of the Northeastern United States tracks geologic changes that have occurred in the northeastern states over hundreds of millions of years. John Rowen, writing in the New York State Conservationist, stated that "the Raymos bring a new sense of wonder to familiar places … using theory and accessible examples in the field."
In The Virgin and the Mousetrap: Essays in Search of the Soul of Science, Raymo explores a "dozen social and ethical problems arising in science," in areas such as genetic engineering, creationism, military defense, and more, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The work is "a splendid book of essays," noted Marcia Bartusiak in the New York Times Book Review. Raymo, however, is not necessarily seeking to teach science; instead, he uses these essays to examine the point where science and the human experience mesh. Raymo's "wide-ranging essays are not science lessons," Bartusiak continued. "Instead, Mr. Raymo uses scientific fact as a springboard to contemplation, both serious and humorous," He discusses topics such as measuring astronomical distances; the effects of acid rain; the concepts and applications of animal rights; the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense project; nuclear power; and the nature of small invasive insects. "Writing with a fine poetic sensibility, Mr. Raymo can turn a DNA molecule into a microscopic Gothic cathedral," Bartusiak remarked. Throughout, Raymo retains a grasp of the tension between science and spirituality. This is further reflected in the book's title, which refers to a fifteenth-century Flemish triptych, which to Raymo represents the point at which religion first felt the encroachment of science and technology. The center panel of the triptych depicts the Annunciation, while in the right panel, Joseph attends to his carpentry, "with a little mechanical mousetrap on his workbench. Even while the donors adore the Virgin, the age of technology—and gadgets—is dawning on Joseph's workbench," Bartusiak observed. "Eminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable, The Virgin and the Mousetrap deserves a wide audience," Bartusiak concluded.
Several of Raymo's works have focused less on imparting scientific knowledge than on exploring the link between science and religion. Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion is one example, exploring two extremes: "skeptics," who reject all that does not stand up to the rigors of scientific investigation, and "true believers," who often deny objective evidence because of religious faith. Writing for Science magazine, Mark W. Richardson commented that he was "filled with admiration for the clarity and force of [Raymo's] … writing, and for the many deep insights contained in this book…. Skeptics and True Believers raises profound questions about how we face, filter, and deny realities about the universe as received from science. It is accessible to anyone wishing to explore the ‘exhilarating connections between science and religion.’"
Raymo again explores the connection between religion and science in Natural Prayers. With this work, Raymo is concerned not with the divide that has traditionally separated those who practice science and those who pursue religion, but with the larger context in which science and religion can coexist and complement each other. He "sees prayer as paying attention to the marvels of nature and being reverent in the face of its mysteries," commented Spirituality and Practice reviewers Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Raymo sees God not as a separate divine entity, but as a force found within all aspects of nature itself. In answer to the question of how to communicate with and pray to such a force, Raymo suggests we can do so "by paying close and appreciative attention to the universe," noted Donna Seaman in a Booklist review. A Publishers Weekly writer remarked: "Celebrating the moon or dragonflies, Virginia Woolf or Thoreau, Raymo shows how scientific observation can become worship."
In The Path: A One-mile Walk through the Universe, Raymo traces the one-mile commute between his home and office, a route he walked each day for thirty-seven years while working as a professor and letting not a flower or pebble go unnoticed. In School Library Journal Barbara A. Genco wrote that "Raymo has a rare gift: he encourages readers to look at everyday life with fresh eyes…. Since reading The Path, I hope that my own daily walk to work … can become ‘deeper, richer, more multidimensional.’" In a review for Library Journal, Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman commented that "Raymo instills a sense of wonder in the workings of the natural world and exhibits a deep faith in science and technology."
Released in 2004, Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain focuses on a corner of the world that is close to Raymo's heart. For many years he has divided his time between Boston and the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland, at the base of Mount Brandon. Climbing Brandon takes the reader on a tour of a region steeped in Celtic myth and religious monuments. In the Irish Independent, reviewer Ann Dunne commented: "No less delightful for being erudite, crammed full of fascinating facts, Climbing Brandon is a charming and thought-provoking book, equally accessible to the casual hill walker or those seeking meaning in today's hectic world." Patricia Monaghan wrote in Booklist that "Raymo uses his own decades-long knowledge of the mountain as a springboard for meditations on the juncture of science and spirituality…. Not only for those interested in Ireland, this fine, short book should appeal to readers interested in earth spirituality as well."
Raymo's body of works includes fiction as well. His first novel, In the Falcon's Claw: A Novel of the Year 1000, presents the fictional memoirs of an Irish monk at the end of the first millennium. "Raymo's elegant prose and his fidelity to historical detail distinguish this well-crafted, often moving novel," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The Dork of Cork tells the story of an Irish author, who is a dwarf, and his mother, an unwed escapee from Nazi-occupied France. Published in 1993, the book was later adapted for the 1995 film Frankie Starlight. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called The Dork of Cork a "philosophic, imaginatively plotted tale," commenting that Raymo "so skillfully manipulates the author-within-an-author narration that it's easy to forget that Frank is a fictional entity. His unique, epiphanic and bluntly truthful story forces a reconsideration of the beautiful and the grotesque."
For twenty years, Raymo's thoughts on science and humanity were published weekly in a column for the Boston Globe. After retiring from the column, Raymo felt compelled to continue his musings in a new medium: the Internet, where he regularly writes on the site ScienceMusings.com. He told Three Monkeys Online Web site contributor Andrew Lawless: "I just found I needed to keep putting words on paper…. It's a sort of contribution from retirement to science education which remains important to me." On ScienceMusings.com Raymo maintains a weekly column on various contemporary science topics as they relate to society and religion, as well as a daily Web log of his meditations.
Raymo offers a fictional consideration of the origin of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine, in his novel Valentine: A Love Story. The novel is narrated by Julius Marius Favus, a Roman jail overseer and the father of the blind Julia. Valentine, the physician who assisted at the girl's birth, is incarcerated in Favus's prison later in his life, where he encounters the grown-up Julia, this time falling in love with the beautiful young woman. Valentine's affections for Julia are sound, even though she is a follower of the newly formed and much-hated sect of Christianity. Raymo's work adds another interpretation to the story of the ancient Roman doctor, horribly martyred by being shot with arrows, who gives his name to the modern holiday of love and affection. Raymo "pens some lovely scenes" in the novel, his "details are rich and precise, and his vocabulary often erudite," observed a contributor to Publishers Weekly. The author does a "credible job of blending history and storytelling in this very readable albeit somewhat lightweight novel," commented Jane Henriksen Baird in a Library Journal review. ForeWord reviewer Aimee Houser called Raymo's novel an "original and deeply affecting work."
Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time along the Prime Meridian recounts Raymo's experiences walking the Prime Meridian, that segment of the earth between London and the English Channel that has been designated as representing zero degrees longitude. At the point where some worlds end and others begin, Raymo takes a walking tour of the areas surrounding the Prime Meridian, carefully considering the history and the science that bunch heavily against this critical piece of geography. He looks at the history of how the longitude system was established and the early geologists whose work was important in this undertaking. He diverges into other areas of science such as paleontology, telling the story of Gideon Mantell, who discovered dinosaurs in the nineteenth century. He looks at the background of astronomy and the pioneers such as the Greek Aristarchus, who estimated the distance from the earth to the moon in the third century B.C., and Kepler, who established the laws of planetary motion. Along the route, Raymo realizes that naturalist Charles Darwin's house is located close to the Prime Meridian. "The text is by no means a comprehensive tour de force of all humankind's acquired scientific knowledge, but it does take a pleasant journey through the histories of astronomy, anthropology, geology, and paleontology," remarked Sky & Telescope reviewer Pamela L. Gay. "Walking Zero is an easy read as pleasant as a stroll through the British countryside," Gay remarked. With this book, "skilled, experienced science author Raymo … offers an inventive entry into science history," commented Booklist critic Gilbert Taylor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, Edward B. Davis, review of Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion, p. 572.
Astronomy, July, 2002, Carol Ryback, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 93; October, 2003, John E. Schindler, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 94.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Karen Harris, review of The Virgin and the Mousetrap: Essays in Search of the Soul of Science, p. 156; January 1, 1999, review of Skeptics and True Believers, p. 777; July, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Natural Prayers, p. 1901; May 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 1650; March 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Path: A One-mile Walk through the Universe, p. 1138; April 15, 2004, Patricia Monaghan, review of Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain, p. 1420; April 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time along the Prime Meridian, p. 14.
California Bookwatch, November, 2006, review of Walking Zero.
Commonweal, July 16, 1993, Clare Collins, review of The Dork of Cork, p. 23.
ForeWord, July-August, 1999, Sharon Flesher, review of Natural Prayers; March-April, 2007, Aimee Houser, review of Valentine: A Love Story.
Guardian (London, England), October 9, 2004, Chet Raymo, "Mystic Mountain: Mount Brandon, a Great Solitary Peak on Ireland's West Coast," p. 12.
Humanist, March, 1999, Thomas W. Clark, review of Skeptics and True Believers, p. 45.
Irish Independent, November 6, 2004, Ann Dunne, review of Climbing Brandon.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Climbing Brandon, p. 261.
Kliatt, November, 2003, Janet Julian, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 39.
Library Journal, June 1, 1998, Augustine J. Curley, review of Skeptics and True Believers, p. 114; May 15, 2001, Nancy R. Curtis, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 159; April 15, 2003, Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, review of The Path, p. 120; May 1, 2004, Graham Christian, review of Climbing Brandon, p. 116; April 1, 2006, Margaret F. Dominy, review of Walking Zero, p. 118; January 1, 2007, Jane Henriksen Baird, review of Valentine, p. 98.
National Review, January 31, 1986, Thomas P. McDonnell, review of The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage, p. 68.
New York State Conservationist, October, 2001, John Rowen, review of Written in Stone: A Geological and Natural History of the Northeastern United States, p. 30.
New York Times Book Review, August 18, 1991, Marcia Bartusiak, "Our Cousin the Sea Squirt," review of The Virgin and the Mousetrap.
Publishers Weekly, January 19, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of In the Falcon's Claw: A Novel of the Year 1000, p. 97; May 31, 1991, review of The Virgin and the Mousetrap, p. 66; March 8, 1993, review of The Dork of Cork, p. 65; May 11, 1998, review of Skeptics and True Believers, p. 62; June 21, 1999, review of Natural Prayers, p. 46; April 30, 2001, review of An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, p. 68; April 5, 2004, review of Climbing Brandon, p. 50; March 6, 2006, review of Walking Zero, p. 59; November 20, 2006, review of Valentine, p. 35.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of Walking Zero.
School Library Journal, December, 2003, Barbara A. Genco, review of The Path, p. 58.
Science, September 25, 1998, Mark W. Richardson, review of Skeptics and True Believers, pp. 1969-1970.
Science News, July 19, 2003, a review of The Path, p. 47; August 28, 2004, review of Climbing Brandon, p. 143; June 17, 2006, review of Walking Zero, p. 383.
Skeptical Inquirer, July-August, 1999, Wolf Roder, review of Skeptics and True Believers, p. 66.
Sky & Telescope, January, 2007, Pamela L. Gay, "Walking Tour of Discovery," review of Walking Zero, p. 111.
Smithsonian, June, 1988, Ken Kalfus, review of Honey from Stone: A Naturalist's Search for God, p. 163.
Washington Post Book World, August 17, 2003, Gregory Mott, review of The Path, section T, p. 13.
Powell's Books Web site,http://www.powells.com/ (June 10, 2008), interview with Chet Raymo.
ScienceMusings.com,http://www.sciencemusings.com/ (June 10, 2008), "Chet Raymo."
Spirituality and Practice,http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ (June 10, 2008), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Natural Prayers.
Three Monkeys Online,http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/ (June 10, 2008), "Extending the Shoreline: An Interview with Chet Raymo."