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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic…

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and…

by Richard Holmes

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this one. In The Age Of Wonder Richard Holmes creates a fascinating multi-biography of some of the greatest scientists of the 18th century. Each biography is unique in its own way, but there is a common thread, lead by Joseph Banks, that ties all threads into one complete story of scientific advancement in Britain during the 18th century. I found this a riveting, moving, educational and ultimately a wondrous read.

One can tell Holmes cares deeply about his cast of characters. The reader will celebrate the successes and lament the failures of each individual. Life's trials and tribulations are laid to bear, and ultimately, their legacies are examined. For me, the most memorable characters are: Joseph Banks and his journeys with Captain Cook to the Southern Pacific islands and Brazil. William Herschel and his sister Caroline building revolutionary telescopes, discovering new nebula and planets, and advancing daring new theories of deep space and multiple galaxies outside of the Milky Way. Humphrey Davy exploring the properties of laughing gas, inventing a safety lamp for desperate miners, and ultimately revolutionizing the science of Chemistry. And, finally, this cast wouldn't be complete without multiple, intrepid Hot Air/Hydrogen Balloonists risking it all for science and thrills.

Throughout, Holmes is careful to show the intersection between the humanities and science during this time. Painters, authors, poets and musicians were all inspired by the revolutionary scientific discoveries of the time, and their work clearly shows that inspiration. Holmes gives many examples of this ranging from the poetry of John Keats to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to Shelly's Frankenstein.

In his epilogue, Holmes sums it up best: "...it seems to me impossible to understand fully the contemporary debates about the environment, or climate change, or genetic engineering, or alternative medicine, or extraterrestrial life, or the nature of consciousness, or even the existence of God, without knowing how those arose from the hopes and anxieties of the Romantic Generation."

Highly Recommended

( )
  Mitchell_Bergeson_Jr | Aug 6, 2017 |
How the romantic generation discovered
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
The Age of Wonder (2008) is a smart, well-written and well-structured group biography of British scientists from about the 1780s to the 1820s. This 40 year period is best known for Romantic literature but as Holmes shows there was also remarkable science being done and they were often close friends, indeed informing each others works. The main characters are Sir Joseph Banks, the brother-sister astronomers William and Caroline Herschel, and chemist Humphry Davy. There is large cast of supporting characters.

Generally I found the book to be mixed. When it good it is very good. The early chapters shine in particular the history of ballooning, Mungo Park's explorations in Africa, and Caroline Herschel's domestic journey from servant to "queen" of the heavens. The later chapters are necessary for a biography but mostly forgettable. What Holme's captures is a sense of discovery, of an immediacy and excitement and most of all humanizing science. They were people with faults and quirks which makes it more approachable and not an ivory tower subjects for specialists.

Despite some reservations I think the book is a success and while deserving accolades the establishment went bonkers for it in 2009. ( )
  Stbalbach | May 1, 2017 |
Each chapter (approximately) of this amazing book covers a different pillar of the scientific community in its early days. If you love the history of science, you'll love this!
  mcmlsbookbutler | Oct 3, 2016 |
Entertaining, interesting but overall lighter fair. Simply put the author's premise I found less persuasive than his presentation of Davy's as a quack and attention seeker. The story of Caroline Herschel was really depressing though the stories of her and her brother were unknown to me. Again, more entertaining than illuminating.
  statmonkey | Feb 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
In his radiant new book, "The Age of Wonder," Holmes treats us to the amazing lives of the pioneering sailors and balloonists, astronomers and chemists of the Romantic era. Making good on the book's subtitle, he takes us on a dazzling tour of their chaotic British observatories and fatal explorations in African jungles, showing us "how the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science."
added by fannyprice | editSalon (Aug 10, 2009)
In this big two-hearted river of a book, the twin energies of scientific curiosity and poetic invention pulsate on every page. Richard Holmes, the pre-eminent biographer of the Romantic generation and the author of intensely intimate lives of Shelley and Coleridge, now turns his attention to what Coleridge called the “second scientific revolution,” when British scientists circa 1800 made electrifying discoveries to rival those of Newton and Galileo. In Holmes’s view, “wonder”-driven figures like the astronomer William Herschel, the chemist Humphry Davy and the explorer Joseph Banks brought “a new imaginative intensity and excitement to scientific work” and “produced a new vision which has rightly been called Romantic science.”
Richard Holmes aims to debunk the popular image ("myth" is his word) that the Romantic era was inherently "anti-scientific." Indeed, he argues, it was an era in which science was remarkably transformed by the spirit of the age. . . . [He] endeavors to dramatize how the "Romantic Generation" -- bracketed by Capt. James Cook's first voyage around the world in 1768 and Darwin's embarkation for the Galapagos Islands in 1831 -- achieved what amounted to a "second scientific revolution" (Coleridge's term), forever altering the course of scientific investigation. . . .

Mr. Holmes perhaps overstates the discontinuity between "Romantic science" and what came before and after, but he is right to stress the novel tone that insinuated itself into the project of science at the end of the 18th century. And he is right to seize the expeditions of discovery as chronological markers. It was a moment in which bold explorations -- cosmological as well as geographical -- changed our understanding of the world.
A writer's skill can make a lost world live, and Richard Holmes does that here. Like Davy's gas, The Age of Wonder gives us a whole set of "newly connected and newly modified ideas", a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigorating, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Jenny Uglow (Oct 11, 2008)
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Two things fill my mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and persistently I reflect upon them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me...I see them in front of me and unite them immediately with the consciousness of my own existence.

Immanuel Kant, 'Critique of practical reason' (1788)
He thought about himself, and the whole Earth,
Of Man the wonderful, and of the stars
And how the deuce they ever could have birth:
And then he thought of Earthquakes, and of Wars,
How many miles the Moon might have in girth,
Of Air-balloons, and of many bars
To perfect knowledge of the boundless Skies;
And then he thought of Donna Julia's eyes.

Byron, 'Don Juan' (1819), Canto 1, stanza 92
Those to whom the harmonious doors
Of Science have unbarred celestial stores...

William Wordsworth, 'Lines additional to an evening walk' (1794)
Nothing is so fatal to the progress of the human mind as to suppose our views of science re ultimate; that there are no mysteries in nature; that our triumphs are complete; and that there are no new worlds to conquer.

Humphry Davy, lecture (1810)
I shall attack chemistry, like a shark.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, letter (1810)
To Jon Cook at Radio Flatlands
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In my first chemistry class, at the age of fourteen, I successfully precipitated a single crystal of mineral salts.  (Prologue)
On 13 April 1769, young Joseph Banks, official botanist to HM Bark Endeavour, first clapped eyes on the island of Tahiti, 17 degrees South, 149 degrees West.
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Not the military historian Richard Holmes
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"The Age of Wonder" explores the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of "dynamic science": an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel, his sister Caroline, and Humphry Davy.… (more)

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