Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel

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Overview

"The understanding of the cosmos as a whole has been profoundly influenced by the early work carried out by William Herschel with the assistance of his sister Caroline. Michael Hoskin brings out so very well in this book the many incidents and stories that establish how this was achieved, while placing them within the broader context of the astronomical establishment and aristocracy during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries."—John Herschel-Shorland

"Nobody is better qualified than Michael Hoskin to assess the crucial role of the Herschels in transforming our cosmic perspective. He clearly conveys their extraordinary energy and commitment, and sets their great achievements in the context of their lives and their era. His elegant writing ensures that this book can be enjoyed even by those with no background in astronomy."—Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

"Hoskin's keen observations provide exceptional resolution of the binary pair, William and Caroline Herschel. Transforming himself from a stargazing musician into the world's best astronomer, William also paved the path for his remarkable sister to become an astronomer in her own right. Together, they revolutionized astronomy itself, to reveal the structure and evolution of the universe. Hoskin is a meticulous and thoughtful guide to the lives and achievements of these extraordinary siblings."—Robert P. Kirshner, author of The Extravagant Universe

"The Herschel clan of Hanover produced a whole family of perennially split personalities, divided between Germany and England, music and astronomy, personal ambitions and family responsibility. Hoskin succeeds marvelously in conveying what made the Herschels click, individually and collectively, masterfully interweaving scientific excitement, personal crises, local color, and social mores in a vividly written, beautifully illustrated double biography. Even King George III comes off as a sympathetic character."—Ingrid D. Rowland, author of Giordano Bruno: Philosopher / Heretic

"A wonderfully detailed picture of the famous astronomer William Herschel and his family, illustrating the crucial roles of his sister Caroline in his observation program, of his brother Alex in the construction of his telescopes, and of his son John in completing his survey of nebulae."—Michael Rowan-Robinson, Imperial College London

"Michael Hoskin is a storyteller of science, here relating the fascinating story of the unlikely pair, brother and sister, who pioneered our modern understanding of the larger universe. William Herschel's discovery of Uranus and mapping of nebulae are widely known while Caroline Herschel's collaboration and her independent discovery of comets deserve to be more widely known. Here are their lives, and their extended family's lives, well told and well illustrated."—Jay M. Pasachoff, Williams College

"Discoverers of the Universe is full of fascinating information that has never before seen the light of day. No other account comes close to the richness of detail found in this book, which will become the definitive reference source on the Herschels. Hoskin is exactly the right person to write such a biography."—Owen Gingerich, author of God's Universe

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The Herschels, claims Hoskin, were foremost in changing the view of the universe from a static, mechanical creation to that of a living, changing cosmos. Cambridge University fellow Hoskin (The History of Astronomy) presents the early 19th-century German-born siblings who pursued careers in music until William’s hobby of astronomy eventually provided both with financial support from the King of England. William became famous as a builder of precision telescopes; Caroline was his faithful assistant. Both made significant discoveries, despite the fact that their names are virtually unknown to the average person today. Using homemade telescopes widely known to be the best available, William discovered Uranus, some of its moons, and moons of Saturn, while Caroline studied nebulae and discovered eight comets. William also discovered the existence of infrared radiation through the use of colored filters. Drawing from William’s papers, as well as journals and autobiographies penned by Caroline, Hoskin relates the fascinating story of a man who pursued his passion and left a large legacy to science, and the sister who abandoned a singing career to familial obligations, which in time produced rewards for her as well. (Jan.)
Nature
In this joint biography, written with the cooperation of the Herschel family, historian of astronomy Michael Hoskin portrays the siblings' shared passion for the night sky, and the triumphs and pitfalls of their work. Using an amateur telescope, the pair charted thousands of stars and nebulae in catalogues that are still used today.
Literary Review
[Hoskin brings] the Herschels to life against the background of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century society in England. . . . This is an elegant and enjoyable book that will delight equally readers who have no background in astronomy and those who think they already know about the Herschels.
— John Gribbin
The Age
This is very readable and deeply informed.
— Steven Carroll
Times Higher Education
Brisk and engagingly written. . . . [Hoskin is] such an experienced historian of astronomy that his account and evaluation of the Herschels' technical progress within that discipline is unrivalled.
— William Poole
Astroguyz
Fascinating. . . . A very highly readable account of the Golden Age of British astronomy, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a look at just how those astronomers of yore operated.
— David Dickinson
Montgomery News
An amazing book. . . . Although everyone interested in astronomy should read this book, you will love it because it takes readers back in time to visit the Herschels and witness their interactions with people ranging from the king to commoners.
— Dr. Milton Friedman
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
All in all I found this a great read, and Michael Hoskin is to be congratulated for producing a volume that gives us far more than a mere scientific or technical account of the Herschels. This fascinating book deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in the history of astronomy.
— Wayne Orchiston
Journal of the British Astronomical Association
This is a charming book. . . . It is also beautifully produced with quality illustrations throughout to complement the text. I could not recommend it more highly. Read it and you will never again be able to read or hear the name 'Herschel without recalling the vivid characters it depicts.
— Jacqueline Mitton
Choice
Hoskin provides a comprehensive scientific and social biography of siblings William and Caroline Herschel, told with a liveliness that often reads like a novel. . . . Amateur astronomers of today should find inspiration in this work.
Observatory
This splendid account brings the characters to life and will be enjoyed by anyone with the remotest interest in the history of science, and even those who just like a good story.
— David Stickland
Santa Fe New Mexican Pasa Tiempo
Hoskin's sympathetic and balanced portrait of this remarkable family is a culminating lesson from a Cambridge don: science is composed of equal parts passion and hard work, while great contributions require openness to the evidence, even when it contradicts the prevailing view. This book will interest amateur stargazers, scientists, those interested in women's history and 18th-century English life, and anyone who has gazed in wonder at the night sky.
— Susan Meadows
SpaceStories.com
The achievements of the Herschels are relatively well documented, but thanks to painstaking research, peerless knowledge of his subject and a rare talent for story-telling, Hoskin manages to bring both them and the England they inhabited gloriously alive. Discoverers of the Universe deserves a place on any bookshelf.
— Peter Smith
Journal of BJHS
The book shows an extraordinary volume of research, but then Hoskin has been researching and writing about the Herschels for nearly half a century. Where it is strongest is on his effortless explanations of William's developing research projects once he became an astronomer.
— Emily Winterburn
MAA Reviews
Obviously, this book was not written with mathematicians in mind, but aims at a general audience instead. Those readers with an interest in astronomy and/or history of science will surely find it as enjoyable as I did.
— Álvaro Lozano-Robledo
Metascience
This book is a delight. Like the Herschels themselves, Hoskin's dual-biography combines unusual qualities. Carefully researched and gracefully written, it can be appreciated by astronomers, sopranos, oboists, and snooty specialists. Hoskin has forever fixed the Herschels in the firmament. Rightly so.
— Robert Alan Hatch
Nature - Peter Rodgers
The fascinating story of how the Herschels ventured to Slough and beyond is told well in this book written for the general reader by Michael Hoskin.
Literary Review - John Gribbin
[Hoskin brings] the Herschels to life against the background of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century society in England. . . . This is an elegant and enjoyable book that will delight equally readers who have no background in astronomy and those who think they already know about the Herschels.
The Age - Steven Carroll
This is very readable and deeply informed.
Times Higher Education - William Poole
Brisk and engagingly written. . . . [Hoskin is] such an experienced historian of astronomy that his account and evaluation of the Herschels' technical progress within that discipline is unrivalled.
Astroguyz - David Dickinson
Fascinating. . . . A very highly readable account of the Golden Age of British astronomy, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a look at just how those astronomers of yore operated.
Montgomery News - Milton Friedman
An amazing book. . . . Although everyone interested in astronomy should read this book, you will love it because it takes readers back in time to visit the Herschels and witness their interactions with people ranging from the king to commoners.
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage - Wayne Orchiston
All in all I found this a great read, and Michael Hoskin is to be congratulated for producing a volume that gives us far more than a mere scientific or technical account of the Herschels. This fascinating book deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in the history of astronomy.
Journal of the British Astronomical Association - Jacqueline Mitton
This is a charming book. . . . It is also beautifully produced with quality illustrations throughout to complement the text. I could not recommend it more highly. Read it and you will never again be able to read or hear the name 'Herschel without recalling the vivid characters it depicts.
Observatory - David Stickland
This splendid account brings the characters to life and will be enjoyed by anyone with the remotest interest in the history of science, and even those who just like a good story.
Santa Fe New Mexican Pasa Tiempo - Susan Meadows
Hoskin's sympathetic and balanced portrait of this remarkable family is a culminating lesson from a Cambridge don: science is composed of equal parts passion and hard work, while great contributions require openness to the evidence, even when it contradicts the prevailing view. This book will interest amateur stargazers, scientists, those interested in women's history and 18th-century English life, and anyone who has gazed in wonder at the night sky.
SpaceStories.com - Peter Smith
The achievements of the Herschels are relatively well documented, but thanks to painstaking research, peerless knowledge of his subject and a rare talent for story-telling, Hoskin manages to bring both them and the England they inhabited gloriously alive. Discoverers of the Universe deserves a place on any bookshelf.
Journal of BJHS - Emily Winterburn
The book shows an extraordinary volume of research, but then Hoskin has been researching and writing about the Herschels for nearly half a century. Where it is strongest is on his effortless explanations of William's developing research projects once he became an astronomer.
MAA Reviews - Alvaro Lozano-Robledo
Obviously, this book was not written with mathematicians in mind, but aims at a general audience instead. Those readers with an interest in astronomy and/or history of science will surely find it as enjoyable as I did.
Metascience - Robert Alan Hatch
This book is a delight. Like the Herschels themselves, Hoskin's dual-biography combines unusual qualities. Carefully researched and gracefully written, it can be appreciated by astronomers, sopranos, oboists, and snooty specialists. Hoskin has forever fixed the Herschels in the firmament. Rightly so.
Montgomery News - Dr. Milton Friedman
An amazing book. . . . Although everyone interested in astronomy should read this book, you will love it because it takes readers back in time to visit the Herschels and witness their interactions with people ranging from the king to commoners.
MAA Reviews - Álvaro Lozano-Robledo
Obviously, this book was not written with mathematicians in mind, but aims at a general audience instead. Those readers with an interest in astronomy and/or history of science will surely find it as enjoyable as I did.
Eighteenth-Century Fiction - Randall Brooks
[T]he intertwining of the family life, records from new sources, and the Herschels' contributions to astronomy make this an interesting volume and one that anyone with a modicum of interest in the history of astronomy will find fascinating.
ISIS - Michael J. Crowe and Stephen Case
Hoskin's portrayal of the careers and significance of the Herschels will be compelling and satisfying for the general reader and an excellent introduction to these topics for historians of astronomy, though the broad strokes used will occasionally leave the historian asking for more. . . . The strength of the book is that it is built on a career centered on working to understand the Herschels and is presented by one who genuinely admires them. This admiration and expertise go hand in hand to create a compelling and accurate survey of two truly remarkable careers.
From the Publisher
"The achievements of the Herschels are relatively well documented, but thanks to painstaking research, peerless knowledge of his subject and a rare talent for story-telling, Hoskin manages to bring both them and the England they inhabited gloriously alive. Discoverers of the Universe deserves a place on any bookshelf."—Peter Smith, SpaceStories.com

"The book shows an extraordinary volume of research, but then Hoskin has been researching and writing about the Herschels for nearly half a century. Where it is strongest is on his effortless explanations of William's developing research projects once he became an astronomer."—Emily Winterburn, Journal of BJHS

"Obviously, this book was not written with mathematicians in mind, but aims at a general audience instead. Those readers with an interest in astronomy and/or history of science will surely find it as enjoyable as I did."—lvaro Lozano-Robledo, MAA Reviews

"This book is a delight. Like the Herschels themselves, Hoskin's dual-biography combines unusual qualities. Carefully researched and gracefully written, it can be appreciated by astronomers, sopranos, oboists, and snooty specialists. Hoskin has forever fixed the Herschels in the firmament. Rightly so."—Robert Alan Hatch, Metascience

"[T]he intertwining of the family life, records from new sources, and the Herschels' contributions to astronomy make this an interesting volume and one that anyone with a modicum of interest in the history of astronomy will find fascinating."—Randall Brooks, Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"Hoskin's portrayal of the careers and significance of the Herschels will be compelling and satisfying for the general reader and an excellent introduction to these topics for historians of astronomy, though the broad strokes used will occasionally leave the historian asking for more. . . . The strength of the book is that it is built on a career centered on working to understand the Herschels and is presented by one who genuinely admires them. This admiration and expertise go hand in hand to create a compelling and accurate survey of two truly remarkable careers."—Michael J. Crowe and Stephen Case, ISIS

"Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel springs from the findings of a lifetime of scholarly endeavor by Michael Hoskin. Accessible and brightly written in a very fluent style as well as splendidly illustrated, it will bring the Herschels and their remarkable lives to still wider attention."—Robert W. Smith, Canadian Journal of History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691148335
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/30/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 839,890
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Hoskin is fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, where he lectured in the history of astronomy from 1959 until his retirement in 1988, and founding editor of the "Journal for the History of Astronomy". His books include "The Herschel Partnership as Viewed by Caroline" and "The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy".

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Preface ix
The Herschel Family xiii
Prologue August 1772: The Partnership Convenes 1
Chapter 1: 1707-1773: A Musician's Odyssey 6
Chapter 2: 1773-1778: Vocations in Conflict 28
Chapter 3: 1779-1781: An Enthusiasm Shared 44
Chapter 4: 1781-1782: Royal Patronage 57
Chapter 5: 1782-1783: "Astronomer to his Majesty" 69
Chapter 6: 1783-1785: The Construction of the Heavens 82
Chapter 7: 1782-1790: "One of the Greatest Mechanics of his Day" 108
Chapter 8: 1786-1788: "Gold Can Glitter as Well as the Stars" 129
Chapter 9: 1788-1798: "Noble and Worthy Priestess of the New Heavens" 138
Chapter 10: 1788-1810: "The Most Celebrated of All the Astronomers of the Universe" 146
Chapter 11 1792-1822: The Torch is Handed On 158
Chapter 12 1822-1833: John's "Sacred Duty" 186
Chapter 13 1833-1848: "The Completion of My Father's Work" 197
Abbreviations 209
Notes 211
Bibliographic essay 223
Further Reading 225
Index 229

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