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

Average Rating 4
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

To read it is to read the opening of the human mind. A must have for any library.

Like the polymath intellectuals of the times, The Age of Wonder reaches across multiple themes and disciplines, combining biography with the history of science, literature and even social change. Holmes' biographical accounts carry the reader through the book, each figu...
Like the polymath intellectuals of the times, The Age of Wonder reaches across multiple themes and disciplines, combining biography with the history of science, literature and even social change. Holmes' biographical accounts carry the reader through the book, each figure serving as a new torchbearer in the progression of science in the age-and each figure also bringing new questions as that same science slowly reveals a universe far vaster and stranger than the easily defined world of the old philosophy. The Age of Wonder is a book about discovery, both exciting and frightening-discovery that removes surety as much as it offers hope. To read it is to read the opening of the human mind, and to be called again to look at the world with wonder.


I am Scott C. Waring, author of novels George's Pond & West's Time Machine.

posted by Scott-Waring on August 5, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

It could have been an Interesting book but...

Boring. Barely keeps the reader's attention. Interesting discoveries and events are buried in minutia and the book is filled with names of people no one will ever remember. Snipets of book reviews on the book's jacket are either very misleading or taken completely ou...
Boring. Barely keeps the reader's attention. Interesting discoveries and events are buried in minutia and the book is filled with names of people no one will ever remember. Snipets of book reviews on the book's jacket are either very misleading or taken completely out of context.

posted by 2384369 on May 8, 2010

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  • Posted August 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    To read it is to read the opening of the human mind. A must have for any library.

    Like the polymath intellectuals of the times, The Age of Wonder reaches across multiple themes and disciplines, combining biography with the history of science, literature and even social change. Holmes' biographical accounts carry the reader through the book, each figure serving as a new torchbearer in the progression of science in the age-and each figure also bringing new questions as that same science slowly reveals a universe far vaster and stranger than the easily defined world of the old philosophy. The Age of Wonder is a book about discovery, both exciting and frightening-discovery that removes surety as much as it offers hope. To read it is to read the opening of the human mind, and to be called again to look at the world with wonder.


    I am Scott C. Waring, author of novels George's Pond & West's Time Machine.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    One of my favorite books in the last 5 years!

    This book is wonderful - the writing is clear and concise, the different stories unique and thrilling. Rarely have I enjoyed a book as much as this. Although it is primarily about science, the way the author weaves the romantic era writers into the story is one of the reasons this book is so very special.

    I highly recommend this book to anyone that has even the slightest interest in science and the history of science.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    Delightful, Informative and Entertaining Reading

    Only about half way through, I find "The Age of Wonder..." to be a very good book. Filled with facts and dates, it should be dry reading; instead, Holmes has written a wonderfully entertaining book about the Romantic Age of Discovery and those who made it so.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    Spectacular combination of science and poetry

    This highly interesting and well written study of nineteenth century scientific geniuses and their personalities is a compelling book to read.
    The author uses personal letters and diaries in combination with contemporary events to show the often real poetic nature of the scientists studied. The work is based on Joseph Bank and British, German, and French scientific discoveries to the exclusion of most others.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    A Wonderful Book

    Imagine a time when great poets wrote of great new findings of science and when scientists wrote poetry about how they poked and prodded the earth and the sky to reveal a great new world. Sound like some futuristic dream? It's not.

    In the 18th and early 19th centuries, The Age of Romanticism, there was no boundary between science and poetry. Poets felt that they, like scientists were serious observers and seekers of truth. The scientists, educated to understand poetry and to value the classics. agreed.

    The book starts with Joseph Banks sailing with Captain Cook to Tahiti, where, in effect, he founded anthropology, then goes on to the amazing star gazing of William Herschel and his sister. Then comes the saga of Humphrey Davy. The book is 600 pages long, but kept me enthralled to the end.

    Because there are so many names of people and places, with long spaces between their mention, it's best to read on an eBook, so when a name appears you can tap it, then select Find and a popup box appears, listing every sentence with that name. You quickly recall the person or place and go on your merry name

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Fascinating, richly detailed, elegantly written

    Anyone who has read the works of the English Romantics but who is not familiar with what the world of science was up to in the late 18th and early 19th centuries will be ebgrossed by Holmes' book. As it turns out, the C. P. Snow-ian Two Cultures had yet to make their distinction, one from the other: poets and "natural philosophers" wielded many of the same mental processes, and Holmes shows us, in richly drawn portraits of Banks, Harvey, Faraday, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Erasmus Darwin,and the mighty Herschels, what an electric time the intellect was having across the span of a couple of generations.
    This reader's only regret, and a sign of our present times: reading this as an ebook meant not being able to flip back and forth between notes and text, and chapters. So frustrating!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2011

    Great book

    Excellent book. What great insight into the body knowledge we call science. Individuals that give this a low rating are defiinitely limited in their cognitive ability. Reading this gives a wonderful window into the development of the discipline we call science.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2010

    A great read

    This book is extremely engaging, especially so for someone who considers themselves to be science-iliterate as I do. It will make a great gift book for those with a budding interest in the history of science.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2010

    It could have been an Interesting book but...

    Boring. Barely keeps the reader's attention. Interesting discoveries and events are buried in minutia and the book is filled with names of people no one will ever remember. Snipets of book reviews on the book's jacket are either very misleading or taken completely out of context.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2014

    This is a thrilling book -- possibly the best I have ever read a

    This is a thrilling book -- possibly the best I have ever read and I have written two wonderful biographies. Age of Wonder combines the vivid characterization and sweep of the best 19th century novels with the historical accuracy and insight that Richard Holmes is known for. Discovering this book...a few years after its publication...has reminded me of why I so loved reading in the first place.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2014

    Good book

    All of you who said it was bad are wrong best book ive read in a long time i definitly recomend it

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  • Posted March 28, 2013

    Could have used some editing!

    While a few modern scientists have written prose fiction, very few have delved into poetry and none have been counted amount any nation's poet laureates. That some of the most important scientists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were accomplished poets comes as something of a surprise. Did the poetical endeavors of those Romantic era scientists have as much impact on society in general as their scientific discoveries?
    Richard Holmes assigned himself the daunting task of simultaneously analyzing both the scientific and literary developments of the Romantic Era. The author's defined emphasis is on William Herschel, the astronomer, and Sir Humphrey Davy, the chemist, but The Age of Wonder wanders far and wide both among scientists and authors. Unfortunately that wandering is often not tightly related to the overall theme. For that matter, the overall theme is never clearly defined. Is it the influence that scientific developments of that era had on literature and society? Or, is it the influence that literature and philosophy had on the development of science? This is a lengthy (629 pages) book with Holmes spending nearly 200 pages (but very little about the transit of Venus which was the object of the journey) on spicy tales of the South Pacific (Banks), ballooning, Mungo Park and Frankenstein. With the exception of the last, where the theme of vitalism reflects some influence of literature on science, there is no clear bearing of the other topics on any serious scientific developments. Those 200 pages might have been better spent developing a clearer concept of how science and literature may have interacted.
    The Age of Wonder is a meticulously researched, scholarly work with an extensive, structured bibliography, references and even a "Cast of Characters". The book's insights into the personalities of several of the greatest thinkers of this remarkable era are worth reading, even if those portraits are at times not very flattering.
    Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    It starts out very interesting but finally had to stop reading i

    It starts out very interesting but finally had to stop reading it as it becomes increasingly boring and painful to read, due to the amount of worthless detail with very little information. A waste of money and time.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2010

    horrible

    This book is possibly the most boring book I have ever read. I had to pay $40 for it for a class and it has been the worst $40 I have ever spent. I love to read, but I had to force myself to sit down and read this book so that I could complete the coursework required. If you are wanting to find a book to read for enjoyment, stay far away from this book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 1, 2009

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    Posted December 10, 2009

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    Posted June 6, 2010

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    Posted August 21, 2010

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    Posted November 20, 2010

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