Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics

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Born in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, Agnes Mary Clerke achieved fame as the author of A History of Astronomy during the nineteenth century. Through her quarter-century career, she became the leading commentator on astronomy and astrophysics in the English-speaking world. This biography describes not only the life and work of this extraordinary woman, but also chronicles the development of astronomy in the last decades of pre-Einstein science. Along the way, it introduces many of the great figures in astronomy of that age, including Huggins, Lockyer, Holden, and Pickering.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"BrÜck has written an excellent book. Her thorough research in numerous archives and in Clerke's publications is well documented in the notes, and numerous well-chosen photographs illustrate the text. There is an extremely informative chapter on women in astronomy in the Victorian era... BrÜck paints a fascinating picture of the rich fabric of British astronomy and astrophysics at the end of the nineteenth century. This is a highly readable, well-produced, attractive book." Nature

"This first full-length biography of Clerke, a woman historian of astronomy of the last half of the 19th century, also details a significangt period in the rise of modern astrophysics with the development of larger and better telescopes, the use of photography in the mapping of the skies, and the invention of the spectroheliograph. Working primarily from archival sources, BrÜck has written a detailed, scholarly, and thorough account of both the life and the work of relatively unknown Irish woman of science. The careful documentation includes photographs of the astronomers and their work." Choice

From The Critics
A biography of the author of that touches upon the state of astronomy as a science in the pre-Einstein years and discusses many of the contributions of her scientific colleagues to the science. The work follows her life from her birth in rural Ireland in 1842, through her professional life in London, to her death in 1907. Astronomer Brück links Clerke's life with that of her sister Ellen, a poet and journalist for the English Catholic press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521808446
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Pages: 286
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Bruck gained her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Edinburgh, where she went on to become a Senior Lecturer in astronomy. Her main research interest was in photographic stellar photometry and spectroscopy. Now retired, she has a special interest in nineteenth century British and Irish women in astronomy, about whom she has written numerous articles. In 2001, Dr Bruck was awarded the Lorimer Medal of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. Family background in County Cork; 2. Ireland and Italy; 3. London, the literary scene; 4. The History of Astronomy; 5. A circle of astronomers; 6. A visit to South Africa; 7. The System of the Stars; 8. Social life in scientific circles; 9. Homer, the Herschels and a revised History; 10. The opinion moulder; 11. Popularisation, cryogenics and evolution; 12. Problems in Astrophysics; 13. Women in astronomy in Britain in Agnes Clerke's time; 14. Revised System of the Stars; 15. Cosmogonies, cosmology and Nature's spiritual clues; 16. Last days and retrospect; 17. Epilogue; Notes; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.

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