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

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

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

The Age of Wonder is a colorful and utterly absorbing history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science. 

When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes's thrilling evocation of the second scientific revolution. Through the lives of William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who forever changed the public conception of the solar system; of Humphry Davy, whose near-suicidal gas experiments revolutionized chemistry; and of the great Romantic writers, from Mary Shelley to Coleridge and Keats, who were inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of their day, Holmes brings to life the era in which we first realized both the awe-inspiring and the frightening possibilities of science—an era whose consequences are with us still.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400031870
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/02/2010
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 187,551
Product dimensions: 9.24(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.24(d)

About the Author

Richard Holmes is the author of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage; Shelley: The Pursuit (for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award); Coleridge: Early Visions; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections (a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist). He lives in England.

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Age of Wonder 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Scott-Waring More than 1 year ago
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.
Pablo_in_Austin More than 1 year ago
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.
Fabe More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
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
Eisteddfod More than 1 year ago
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!!
RealityAK More than 1 year ago
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.
lmg More than 1 year ago
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.
KathleenBrady More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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