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Age of Wonder (Paperback) by Richard Holmes

Age of Wonder (Paperback) (edition 2009)

by Richard Holmes

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Title:Age of Wonder (Paperback)
Authors:Richard Holmes
Info:UK General Books (2009), Paperback, 380 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes


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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
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 |
Kindle. A great read. How we came to focus on those 'Eureka' moments in science. This focuses on such wonderful stories that weave together the science and the literature of the period--with some of my favorites Colderidge, the Shelleys. With focus on such topics as baloons, mine lamps, discovering comments and planets. Just a great book!!! ( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 26, 2015 |
This book looks at science in an age when science was closely linked with popular culture. Scientists were considered philosophers and expected to be competent in several fields. Science didn't take place in isolation, but was closely woven into literature, poetry and art. The book showed what science gave to art; I wish it had also considered what the artists gave to the scientists.

The book made me reflect on the links between science and culture today. Today, it's all about specialization. And our science/culture links have become more "specialized", too, with science fiction and distopian futures providing the vast majority of those links. Have we moved out of the age of wonder?

Today's major advancements aren't as visible as hot air balloons overhead, or new bodies in the heavens. Today, we are looking at DNA and tiny, tiny neutrinos which are studied deep underground. Our discoveries are just as wondrous, but less likely to inspire a sonnet.

I liked this book which reminded me of the importance of wonder; of romance as wonder, and of the power of hope. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 3, 2015 |
Kind of book that makes literacy worthwhile. There are still things to learn about the world, about the universe and about the people who have mapped, explored,discovered it.The stories of Herschel and Davy stand out. Davy i knew of, of course, his experiments with laughing gas and invention of the lamp, but how he invented the lamp, how he stopped short of really discovering anaesthetics, how he wrote poetry and was a tortured soul (difficult relationship with his society wife and with his protege Faraday). Herschel was just a name to me, but he really matters; a self-made genius who spent the early part of his life as an accomplished musician, a German who fled his oppressive family to come to England, made all his own instruments, was assisted by his feisty spinster sister who became a recognised astronomer in her own right (the first woman ever) and not only discovered and mapped the heavens like never before but created the basics of our current sense of the universe, its vast scale and age. And then there's Mungo Park, the pioneers of ballooning, Joseph Banks and a few more thrown in, all told with human insight, humour, scientific detail and even a bit sexy here and there. Indeed a wonder. ( )
  vguy | Mar 7, 2015 |
My interest in the History of Science began with reading biographies of famous scientists like Faraday and Edison when I was not yet a teenager. This interest was intensified by college reading of Arthur Koestler, Loren Eiseley and others, and has continued to this day. Richard Holmes fine volume, The Age of Wonder, brings that interest together with my love of literature. In his prologue he describes the book as "a relay race of scientific stories". That it is and more, combining the literary milieu of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with the increasingly wonderful scientific discoveries and enterprises from the voyages of Captain James Cook through the crossing of the English Channel by balloon through excursions into the study of gases and electricity, ending with the first voyage of Charles Darwin.

The cast of characters is too numerous to list, but includes geniuses of science from William Herschel to Humphrey Davy and on to Michael Faraday and other discoverers. The episodes include the discovery of the planet Uranus by Herschel and his sister, the study of Tahitian culture by Joseph Banks, the "vitalist" movement that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, the practical development of safe lamps for coal miners by Davy, and other momentous moments of wonder that are still of importance to us today. Making his stories more interesting is the influence and intersection of science with literature as evidenced by the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, and others including Davy himself. He does not ignore the interaction with scientists from the continent like Lavoisier, Ritter, Baron Cuvier, and Goethe. Also present is the importance of the influence of philosophers, especially the Germans like Kant, both via the writings of Coleridge and through the readings of the scientists themselves.

It was an age when scientists were still considered philosophers, even masters of the humanities. This is seen in the musical creations of Herschel and the poetic charms of Davy; not to mention the writing abilities of all of them including explorers like Captain Cook with his journals of Pacific voyages, and Mungo Park whose journal of his explorations in Africa are a great read to this day. It was also an age when the foundations of some of our greatest twentieth century scientific developments were laid by men like Charles Babbage, the mathematician who invented "difference engines" (we call them computers today).

The combination of Holmes' superb writing style with fascinating stories, many unfamiliar even to a reader like myself, and with the suspense of voyages and scientific advances that seem to happen an increasing pace makes it understandable why this book was the recipient of multiple awards. I would recommend this to all readers who look at the night sky and wonder about the mysteries of nature and the universe. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (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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