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

by Richard Holmes

eBooks of the Month Popular Science

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Winner of the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.

Richard Holmes describes his book as a relay race, set on the cusp of the 1800’s with discovery following after discovery, our own planet, the sky above us and the universe beyond.  And interweaved throughout is the literary reaction to this exciting new world with perhaps Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being the most well-known.  Of all the books shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Science prize this year Richard Holmes’ history stands out a mile; for the exciting story he has to tell, the skill with which he writes and explains the science involved and not least the way he so beautifully conveys the ferment of the times.

 

Comparison: Joseph Banks by Patrick O’Brian, The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition by Claire Brock, Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future by Jenny Uglow

Sue Baker

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Synopsis

Richard Holmes, prize-winning biographer of Coleridge and Shelley, explores the scientific ferment that swept across Britain at the end of the 18th century in his ground-breaking new biography 'The Age of Wonder'. 'The Age of Wonder' is Richard Holmes's first major work of biography in over a decade. It has been inspired by the scientific ferment that swept through Britain at the end of the eighteenth century, 'The Age of Wonder' and which Holmes now radically redefines as 'the revolution of Romantic Science'. The book opens with Joseph Banks, botanist on Captain Cook's first Endeavour voyage, stepping onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, hoping to discover Paradise. Many other voyages of discovery swiftly follow, while Banks, now President of the Royal Society in London, becomes our narrative guide to what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder. Banks introduces us to the two scientific figures that dominate the book: astronomer William Herschel and chemist Humphry Davy. Herschel's tireless dedication to the stars, assisted (and perhaps rivalled) by his comet-finding sister Caroline, changed forever the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy and the meaning of the universe itself. Davy first shocked the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments in Bristol, then went on to save thousands of lives with his Safety Lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. But at the cost, perhaps, of his own heart. Holmes proposes a radical vision of science before Darwin, exploring the earliest ideas of deep time and deep space, the creative rivalry with the French scientific establishment, and the startling impact of discovery on great writers and poets such as Mary Shelley, Coleridge, Byron and Keats. With his trademark sense of the human drama, he shows how great ideas and experiments are born out of lonely passion, how scientific discoveries (and errors) are made, how intense relationships are forged and broken by research, and how religious faith and scientific truth collide. The result is breathtaking in its originality, its story-telling energy, and not least, in its intellectual significance.

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780007149537
Publication date: 03/09/2009
Publisher: HarperPress an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780007149537
Publication date: 3rd September 2009
Author: Richard Holmes
Publisher: HarperPress an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 380 pages
Genres: eBook Favourites, Popular Science,
Categories: Biography: science, technology & medicine, Impact of science & technology on society,

About Richard Holmes

Richard Holmes, one of Britain's best-known military historians (and President of the British Commission of Military History), has selected over 200 photographs taken for the most part by officers and men rather than by official photographers – mostly unfamiliar ones located in archive collections, regimental museums and private sources. There will also be specially taken photographs by Mike Sheil, one of the best battlefield photographers working today. The book will deal with the whole of the British Army's experience of the First World War – Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and so on – and not just on the Western Front. The photographs will ...

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