"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."
"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 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 narrative will make you appreciate the gravity of your mistake. At one level, it is simply an enchanting group biography of the great British discoverers Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy, and William Herschel, and their relationships with the likes of Keats, Coleridge, Byron and the Shelleys. At another, Holmes's book is a persuasive plea to heal the pointless breach between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities. Reading it made we want to do college over, this time as a history of science major.” –Slate, Best Books of 2009
"What's superlative about "The Age of Wonder" is that Holmes, author of vivid biographies of Shelley and Coleridge, takes the air out of the terms "subjectivity" and "objectivity" and reveals the ways in which the artists were as enveloped in science as the men and women in the labs around them. In a harmony of scientific and artistic sensibilities, he shows, the Romantics tapped the marvels of nature and sounded the infinite benefits of science. It's a song, if we can hear it, that can transform us today." —Salon
"For Holmes to bring those people back to life is a great achievement…this is the finest history of science book I've come across." —Physics Today
"The opening words of Richard Holmes's "The Age of Wonder" couldn't be calmer, but the charge embedded within them ignited an era that merits his soaring title. It was a singular time, and this is a singular book." —CNNmoney.com
"What Holmes has given us with this account of the Romantic scientists is, curiously enough, a thrilling new way to interpret the poets of the era. To bring new light to such a widely read group–and from the angle least expected, that of rigorous scientific study–is Holmes's considerable gift." —Poetry Foundation
"It was a singular time, and this is a singular book." —Fortune Magazine
"[An] amazingly ambitious, buoyant new fusion of history, art, science, philosophy, and biography . . . . Holmes's excitement at fusing long-familiar events and personages into something startlingly new is not unlike the exuberance of the age that animates his groundbreaking book."
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"The Romantics gave us many of our notions of how science is done, which makes the subject of this book—even leaving aside the brilliance with which much of it is told—significant beyond its importance as intellectual history." –American Scholar
"I've been fascinated by a new book, The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes. He talks about how scientists and poets were very much aligned in the Age of Enlightenment, around 1800. Coleridge, Byron and Shelley were all interested in scientific progress. What was discovered, whether in labs or in the cliffs of Tahiti, excited and inspired everyone. I was gripped by that, because it comes at a time when Harvard and other universities are starting to question why different university departments should feel so separate when the purpose of a university is supposedly to bring all the sciences and humanities together." –Yo-Yo Ma
Praise from the United Kingdom for The Age of Wonder
"Holmes suffuses his book with the joy, hope, and wonder of the revolutionary era. Reading it is like a holiday in a sunny landscape, full of fascinating bypaths that lead to unexpected vistas."
—The Sunday Times
"Gives us . . . a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigoration, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful."
"Romanticism and Science are justly reunited in Holmes's new book . . . A revelation . . . Thrilling."
"Exhilarating . . . Instructive and delightful . . . Finely observed . . . Generous and hugely enjoyable."
—The Daily Telegraph
"Fascinating . . . This beautifully crafted book deserves all the praise it will undoubtedly attract. Well-researched and vividly written, The Age of Wonder will fascinate scientists and poets alike."
—The Literary Review
From the Hardcover edition.
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
As seems appropriate, 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
…amazingly ambitious, buoyant new fusion of history, art, science, philosophy and biography
The New York Times
The Romantic imagination was inspired, not alienated, by scientific advances, argues this captivating history. Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes's biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy's self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge. Their discoveries, he argues, helped establish a new paradigm of "Romantic science" that saw the universe as vast, dynamic and full of marvels and celebrated mankind's power to not just describe but transform Nature. Holmes's treatment is sketchy on the actual science and heavy on the cultural impact, with wide-ranging discussions of the 1780s ballooning craze, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and scientific metaphors in Romantic poetry. It's an engrossing portrait of scientists as passionate adventurers, boldly laying claim to the intellectual leadership of society. Illus. (July 14)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
While Romanticism in Great Britain is known mostly as an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement, rapid and revolutionary scientific discoveries were an underlying catalyst to the era's vaunted sense of "wonder." It was also a period when remarkable individuals working alone could make major contributions to knowledge. Historian and biographer Holmes (Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage) conveys the history of Romantic-era science through vivid biographies of a few such individuals. Notable among them are Joseph Banks, a botanist whose experiences in Tahiti were life-changing; William Herschel, the eccentric astronomer who (aided invaluably by his devoted sister, Caroline) discovered the planet Uranus; and Humphrey Davy, an intrepid chemist who conducted gas inhalation experiments on himself. These and others are depicted against the cultural tapestry of an age of idealism, which was both fueled and threatened by the advances of science. The subject makes this book most relevant for readers of general science and history of science, but its engaging narratives of the period could appeal to a broader readership. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/1/09.]
Energetic analysis of the "Romantic Age of Science."Romanticism, the deeply emotional artistic movement of the second half of the 18th century, was partly a reaction against the pragmatism of Enlightenment scientists. However, British historian Holmes (Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer, 2000, etc.) writes, the divide between scientific endeavors and artistic pursuits was not always so clearly delineated. The author focuses primarily on the lives of two men who straddled both worlds, who embraced "Romantic science" and pursued it with the passion of poets or painters. Astronomer William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, started his career as a musician. That led to an interest in mathematics and then astronomy, which he pursued with the same emotional fervor as any classical music piece. He even compared his skill at seeing astronomical phenomena with the skill required to play Handel's fugues. Holmes also looks at the British chemist Humphry Davy, who, among other accomplishments, discovered that chlorine and iodine were elements. Early on, Davy wrote poetry, and later became friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. One of his poems celebrated "science, whose delicious water flows / From Nature's bosom." Davy's enthusiasm led to risky, self-destructive behavior-he often inhaled strange chemical gases as experiments, a practice that nearly killed him. While partaking of nitrous oxide with acquaintances, he extolled the glories of science: "I dream of Science restoring to Nature what Luxury, what Civilization have stolen from her-pure hearts, the forms of angels, bosoms beautiful, and panting with Joy & Hope." Davy may have had a brilliant scientist's brain,but he had the heart and soul of a poet. How these two contradictory ideas not only coexisted, but flourished together during the Romantic era, makes for engrossing reading. Enjoyable excavation of a time when science and art fed off each other, to the benefit of both communities.