Book 207: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

PIMG_1088The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science  by Richard Holmes

Finished reading on March 30th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

I had come in contact with this book in bookstores several times. The title and subtitle were just interesting enough for me to pick it up, but the blurbs and short description on the back didn’t motivate me enough to want to read it.

That all didn’t matter anymore when one day my boss said she had just finished reading a good book on the history of science in the beginning of 19th century. So I borrowed it and felt compelled to read it as soon and fast as possible, to get back to books that I’ve selected (in my infinite wisdom) myself.

“The Age of Wonder” paints an image of what was going on in science at the very end of 18th century and beginning of 19th century in Great Britain. When I started reading this book I was quite familiar with William and John Herschel (if you’re looking for a great book about William Herschel see this), I might have come across the name of Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday’s name crept up several times during my stint of studying physics, but for the most part I had never heard of the scientists and explorers that were mentioned in the book. (Which explains why the mention of someone called Joseph Banks on the back of the book didn’t leave me with the need to read this book).

This brings me to the first point I wanted to make – It’s about British scientists or people working in Great Britain, so I’m sure my view is somewhat different if I’d be British. So to me it seemed like it’s just a tiny piece of a puzzle that shows UK.

The book is truly fascinating and informative and some of the life-stories seem really haunting, but if you have an idea what was going on in the world at the same time, it’s great, otherwise you might just forget the wider context. If you keep in mind UK, then it’s totally fine.

In the book you can read about Joseph Bank’s expedition to Tahiti (very curious story there) and his later life as the president of the Royal Society; about William Herschel and his sister Caroline and how the first discovered Uranus and the second discovered several comets and was of great help to her brother as his assistant.

Then there’s the stories about Humphry Davy –  which were quite illuminating, and the authors description was so vivid, that you could imagine yourself being in the laboratory and seeing young Davy breathing in laughing gas or trying to find a way to build a safe lamp for mines.

It’s interesting how the great Joseph Banks, William Herschel and Humphry Davy leave you with different impressions as you get further into the book – they all start out young and enthusiastic and you might end up with the feeling that for example Humphry Davy wouldn’t have been a great adviser to have in his old age, although when he was young, he might have been quite cool.

There are more people in the book ofcourse, ut for that you should pick up the book. 🙂

It was a very enjoyable read, especially because of the mention of poets and writers of the same time period, and how they saw the scientists etc.

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Book 66: Discoverers of the Universe by Michael Hoskin

PIMG_9783Discoverers of the Universe by Michael Hoskin

Finished reading on August 15, 2013

Rating 9/10

“Discoverers of the Universe” tells the story of William and Caroline Herschels life and work. William Herschel is most famous for his discovery of the planet Uranus, which he actually named Georgium Sidus, or George’s star in honour the then reigning British monarch. Uranus, that’s what most people know. William Herschel was also a telescope maker, he made the best reflectors in his time and also the biggest, he observed binary stars, planets and their satellites, nebulae and a lot of other objects.

Caroline Herschel was William’s younger sister, who became William’s assistant – marked down his observations and did a lot of paperwork. But she did her own observations as well – she discovered nine comets and was one of the first female astronomers to get paid for her work.

This book tells it all in detail, about where and when they lived, how much Herschel actually used his 40 foot reflector, how until middle age Herschel had been a musician etc.

It’s a wonderful book, and I’m sure would be nteresting even if you haven’t heard of William Herschel before.