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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Scienceby Richard Holmes
Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder is at once a history of Regency-era scientific discovery and a meditation on what the pursuit of science says about us as individuals and as a culture. Scrupulously researched and deftly told, this book is an epic journey of the mind.
"As a good cookbook sends us straight to the kitchen, or a vivid travel book inspires us to get on a plane, The Age of Wonder, by portraying so many people whose eyes were open to the horror and excitement of the world, urges us to appreciate more keenly the mysteries that surround us." Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine (read the entire Harper's review)
Synopses & Reviews
A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science. Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder explores the earliest ideas and explorers of dynamic science: an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered.
Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe itself. And Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education, stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments, which led to the invention of the miners' lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. Richard Holmes's extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experiments — both successes and failures — were born of singular (and often lonely) dedication, and how science began to be viewed as one with the imagination. It is breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.
"The Romantic imagination was inspired, not alienated, by scientific advances, argues this captivating history. Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes's biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy's self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge. Their discoveries, he argues, helped establish a new paradigm of 'Romantic science' that saw the universe as vast, dynamic and full of marvels and celebrated mankind's power to not just describe but transform Nature. Holmes's treatment is sketchy on the actual science and heavy on the cultural impact, with wide-ranging discussions of the 1780s ballooning craze, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and scientific metaphors in Romantic poetry. It's an engrossing portrait of scientists as passionate adventurers, boldly laying claim to the intellectual leadership of society. Illus. (July 14)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Holmes pursues his many-chambered nautilus of a tale with energy and great rigor, unearthing many lives and assembling remnant shards of biography, history, science, and literary criticism." Christian Science Monitor
"What Holmes has given us with this account of the Romantic scientists is, curiously enough, a thrilling new way to interpret the poets of the era. To bring new light to such a widely read group — and from the angle least expected, that of rigorous scientific study — is Holmes's considerable gift." Poetry Foundation
"Gives us...a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigoration, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful." The Guardian
Book News Annotation:
The author of a number of biographies, British author Holmes presents a series of stories which collectively provide an account of the second scientific revolution, which produced a new vision--Romantic science--in 18th-century Britain. Included are chapters on botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820), astronomers William Hershel (1738-1822) and his sister Caroline (1750-1848), 18th-century balloonists, chemist Humphry Davy (1778-1829), and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and the soul. The text also contains an alphabetically-organized list of key individuals in 18th-century science, a thematically grouped bibliography, and some 70 b&w and color reproductions. The book is academic but accessible to the general reader. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
William Hyde Wollaston was born into a large, religious, and scientifically informed family in 1766 and died sixty-two years later as one of the Western worldand#8217;s most highly regarded scientists. With encouragement from his well-connected father, he studied medicine at Cambridge, and began practicing as a physician in the provinces before moving his practice to London in 1797, arriving in the capital about the same time as his illustrious colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young. After a few years in London, Wollaston abandoned the vocation he had come to dislike and bravely set out to make his living as a chemical entrepreneur, while pursuing his intellectual interests in a wide range of contemporary scientific subjects. He, Davy, and Young were to become Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first third of the nineteenth century, and their deaths within a six month time span were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British supremacy in science. In contrast to his two more famous colleagues, Wollastonand#8217;s life was not recorded for posterity in a contemporary biography, and his many remarkable scientific, commercial, instrumental, and institutional achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result. This biography is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived.
William Hyde Wollaston made an astonishing number of discoveries in an astonishingly varied number of fields: platinum metallurgy, the existence of ultraviolet radiation, the chemical elements palladium and rhodium, the amino acid cystine, and the physiology of binocular vision, among others. Along with his colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young, he was widely recognized during his life as one of Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first part of the nineteenth century, and theand#160; deaths of all three within a six-month span, between 1828 and 1829, were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British scientific supremacy. Unlike Davy and Young, however, Wollaston was not the subject of a contemporary biography, and his many impressive achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result.
Pure Intelligence is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived. Drawing on previously-unstudied laboratory records as well as historical reconstructions of chemical experiments and discoveries, and written in a highly accessible style, Pure Intelligence will help to reinstate Wollaston in the history of science, and the pantheon of its great innovators.
The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary transformation in British political, literary, and intellectual life. There was widespread social unrest, and debates raged regarding education, the lives of the working class, and the new industrial, machine-governed world. At the same time, modern science emerged in Europe in more or less its current form, as new disciplines and revolutionary concepts, including evolution and the vastness of geologic time, began to take shape.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
In Visions of Science, James A. Secord offers a new way to capture this unique moment of change. He explores seven key booksand#151;among them Charles Babbageand#8217;s Reflections on the Decline of Science, Charles Lyelland#8217;s Principles ofGeology, Mary Somervilleand#8217;s Connexion of the Physical Sciences, and Thomas Carlyleand#8217;s Sartor Resartusand#151;and shows how literature that reflects on the wider meaning of science can be revelatory when granted the kind of close reading usually reserved for fiction and poetry. These books considered the meanings of science and its place in modern life, looking to the future, coordinating and connecting the sciences, and forging knowledge that would be appropriate for the new age. Their aim was often philosophical, but Secord shows it was just as often imaginative, projective, and practical: to suggest not only how to think about the natural world but also to indicate modes of action and potential consequences in an era of unparalleled change. and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
Visions of Science opens our eyes to how genteel ladies, working men, and the literary elite responded to these remarkable works. It reveals the importance of understanding the physical qualities of books and the key role of printers and publishers, from factories pouring out cheap compendia to fashionable publishing houses in Londonand#8217;s West End. Secordand#8217;s vivid account takes us to the heart of an information revolution that was to have profound consequences for the making of the modern world.
About the Author
Richard Holmes is the author of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage; Shelley: The Pursuit (for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award); Coleridge: Early Visions; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections (a New York Times Book Review Editors Choice and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist). He lives in England.
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
1 Joseph Banks in Paradise
2 Herschel on the Moon
3 Balloonists in Heaven
4 Herschel Among the Stars
5 Mungo Park in Africa
6 Davy on the Gas
7 Dr Frankenstein and the Soul
8 Davy and the Lamp
9 Sorcerer and Apprentice
10 Young Scientists
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