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

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


By (author) Richard Holmes

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  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 552 pages
  • Dimensions: 165mm x 254mm x 38mm | 953g
  • Publication date: 14 July 2009
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0375422226
  • ISBN 13: 9780375422225
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations, colour illustrations, frontispiece
  • Sales rank: 164,734

Product description

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. When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first "Endeavour "voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery--astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical--swiftly follow in Richard Holmes's original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder. Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, "The Age of Wonder" investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of "dynamic science," of 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; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners' lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration extended to great writers and poets as well as scientists, all creators relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing and discovery. 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 religious faith and scientific truth collide. He has written a book breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.

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Author information

Richard Holmes is the author of "Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Dr. Johnson & 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.

Review quote

"Holmes's enthralling book itself exemplifies those qualities fostered by a scientific culture: "the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but "questing" belief in a future for the globe." -"The Washington Post" "In this big two-hearted river of a book, the twin energies of scientific curiosity and poetic invention pulsate on every page." --"The New York Times Book Review """The Age of Wonder" is the long-awaited fermentation of the author's knowledge of the Romantic poets and his lifelong fascination with science." --"The Economist ""Holmes, the biographer of Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, has a firm grip on science in "The Age of Wonder" and a fluency in drawing the connections to literature and religion." --Chemical and Engineering News "Gives us . . . a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigorating, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful." --"The Guardian ""The most flat-out fascinating book so far this year.... Holmes' account of experimental science at the end of 1700s is beyond riveting."-Lev Grossman, "Time Magazine ""Holmes is certainly the man to undertake this intellectual salvage operation...Ambitious...Eloquent." -"Wall Street Journal ""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 " "Rich in human foibles and thrills..." -"Cleveland Plain Dealer" "Richard Holmes--who is almost unfairly gifted both as a writer of living, luminous prose and as a tireless researcher--braids Herschel's story together with a dozen others to create the most joyful, exciting book of the year." -"Time Magazine, ""The Top 10 Everything of 2009" "If, like me, you didn't study much science after high school, this absorbing na

Table of contents

List of illustrations Prologue 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 Epilogue Cast List Bibliography References Acknowledgements Index