Sonnets & Sunspots tells the story of one of the most beloved popular science series of all time, and the charismatic educator who became an icon to several generations of students. The book is also a fascinating history of popular science programming in television and film from its primitive beginnings to the twenty-first century. Along the way there are entertaining behind the scenes stories of each production and the personalities that were involved with them. Dr. Frank Baxter, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Southern California, became a science hero to millions thanks to his alter-ego, “Dr. Research.” Many students even became scientists because of Baxter and the Bell films, some of the most entertaining and informative shows ever made.
As the tale unfolds we meet such people as famed Hollywood director Frank Capra, Walt Disney, legendary voice actor June Foray, Eddie Albert, Richard Carlson, movie mogul Jack Warner, James Burke of Connections fame, Carl Sagan of Cosmos, and a score of others. The book also chronicles the story of public television from its earliest beginnings, including the struggles of such pioneering stations as Houston’s KUHT and San Francisco’s KQED.
The volume is illustrated by photographs and art of the period, many of them from the author’s own collection.
"A fascinating and sometimes humorous look at the early years of science broadcasting. Essential reading if you want to understand how we got here."
– James Burke, Connections and The Knowledge Web
“Eric’s book not only tells the live stories of near godly A/V-club-member heroes, but is also a concise and illuminating history of educational television — the circuitous roots of PBS. A caring look into a subject I care a great deal about, and was inspired by — much like my map for a self-steered life. I love recalling how excited it was to see the latest Bell flick, that would be shown in school, or before the cartoons and main feature at the Sunday matinee."
– Jok Church, Creator of Beakman's World
"If art and science means anything to you and you enjoy TV productions on these subjects, you will want to read Eric Niderost's exceptional book about how a brilliant few, especially featuring Dr. Frank Baxter, helped saved TV from becoming a complete wasteland. This is a nostalgic, edifying and very enjoyable book. I wish I would have known all this fascinating stuff about Dr. Baxter when I worked with him on Mr. 'Novac.'"
– David Macklin, actor who worked with Dr. Baxter, and author of Acting in the Motion Picture Business
"Niderost has documented a vital moment in the history of science outreach. He writes with the same accessibility and sense of fun that made Dr. "Research" Baxter so beloved by so many."
– Calla Cofield, science writer and producer of The Physics Central Podcast
"A fine history of the early days of television, and of one man in particular whose celebrity hinged on making us smarter instead of dumber."
– Scifi Magazine