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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens [Kindle Edition]

Andrea Wulf
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The author of the highly acclaimed Founding Gardeners now gives us an enlightening chronicle of the first truly international scientific endeavor—the eighteenth-century quest to observe the transit of Venus and measure the solar system.
   On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the earth and the sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in remote corners of the world, only to have their efforts thwarted by unpredictable weather and warring armies. Fortunately, transits of Venus occur in pairs: eight years later, the scientists would have another opportunity to succeed.
   Chasing Venus brings to life the personalities of the eighteenth-century astronomers who embarked upon this complex and essential scientific venture, painting a vivid portrait of the collaborations, the rivalries, and the volatile international politics that hindered them at every turn. In the end, what they accomplished would change our conception of the universe and would forever alter the nature of scientific research.

Editorial Reviews


"Andrea Wulf's story of the chase is an enthralling, nail-biting thriller and will undoubtedly prove one of the non-fiction books of the year. Even if you fail to see the Transit, don't miss this wonderful book," -- John Harding Daily Mail "A fine example of scientific storytelling about astronomers of the Enlightenment observing the transit of Venus. Publishers got hot for science writing when Longitude by Dava Sobel took off unexpectedly as a long-term bestseller...Andrea Wulf's story of how astronomers of the Enlightenment hoped to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun by observing the transit of Venus internationally on June 6, 1761, and again on June 3, 1769, is another fine example of such scientific storytelling...From the original inspiration of Edmund Halley that led to the active co-operation of Captain Cook, Benjamin Franklin and even Catherine the Great, the enterprise is narrated with elegant expertise." -- Iain Finlayson The Times "Historian Andrea Wulf's Chasing Venus is beautifully paced, alternating between expe-ditions, with lush descriptions of the often arduous journeys involved." Nature "Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens takes us first to the year 1761 and the phenomena that is a transit of Venus. It charts the story of a truly international effort; to not only observe the transit of 6 June 1761 and indeed its partner of 3 June 1769, but to present the real quest that was to finally determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The author weaves parallel stories involving the French and British expeditions, but makes sure that other delegations from Sweden, Germany, Italy and Russia are given a fair airing. Through this platform we meet the real characters. As political leaders try to prevent bloodshed on battlefields and carnage in capitals, the global scientific community, more appropriately philosophers and astronomers, contemplate their task in the dawn of enlightenment... [an] outstanding book! It's the book of the year so far - do not miss it!" Astronomy Now "[a] truly excellent book...Andrea Wulf tell[s] the rip-roaring tales of numerous expeditions that set off around the globe to observe the Venusian transit of 1761...[She] communicate[s] the verve and energy - not to mention the perilous nature - of the expeditions." -- Marcus Chown New Scientist

About the Author

Andrea Wulf was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art and is the author of The Brother Gardeners (longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008 and winner of the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award), The Founding Gardeners and the co-author (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. She has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and many others. She lives in London.

Product Details

  • File Size: 14009 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 1, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0067TGUQQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,839 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The second best Venus transit book May 17, 2012
By Janlabe
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This meticulously researched and well structured book focuses on the human element of the 18th century Venus transit expeditions. It reads like a novel and you are left with a sense of wonder that people could actually go to such extremes for a scientific objective. I rated it the second best transit book after Sheehan and Westfall, "The Transits of Venus", because Sheehan and Westfall have much more technical material about transit conditions and uses of the observations. The two books are complementary, with Sheehan/Westfall providing the astronomy and an overview of the main expeditions and Wulf supplying many interesting and previously unpublished details on the participants and what they went through. It's a wonderful book and a credit to the author.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Missing the most interesting facts June 3, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was disappointed. The book a very well researched and documented history of how the transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 mobilized scientist worldwide in an extraordinary effort to determine the physical size of the solar system. BUT the most interesting aspects of this effort are missing. I wanted to know not only the adventures of the astronomers as they traveled to the far corners of the world to do the observations, but ALSO the method they used in their calculations. How did they actually calculate the distance between the earth and the sun? How did they take into the account that during the 6 hour transit the earth traveled in its orbit, the circumference of which they did not know? How did they determine the precision they needed to convince themselves that could indeed measure the distance to the sun with adequate accuracy? How did Hubble predict the transit of Venus to within a fraction of an hour at any place on the globe? The book would have been significantly more interesting if the author answered these and many similar questions.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Start of Worldwide Scientific Effort May 18, 2012
Next month the world will enjoy a rare astronomical treat. Venus will cross the face of the Sun; it did this in 2004, because these transits tend to come in pairs separated by eight years, but the paired events occur only about every 120 years or so. Of course astronomers all over the world will be looking carefully, and recording, and timing, and there will be an international effort to gather all possible data from the event. We take such scientific cooperation for granted now, but it did not always exist, and it was transits of Venus that started the tradition of worldwide scientific cooperation. In _Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens_ (Knopf), Andrea Wulf has told the amazing stories of the transits of 1761 and 1769, and the expeditions made by intrepid astronomers all over the world to get some idea of the vastness of our solar system. Looking at the sky every night, documenting points of light and their changes might be considered dull; indeed, at the time Britain's Royal Observatory was looking for assistant astronomers and suggested that they be "obedient drudges." The picture here, however, is of adventurous and hardy men (which is not to say they never complained about the hardships) who ventured into the wilds, literally risking their lives for the sake of getting astronomical data. Wulf's entertaining book is a fine tribute to that admirable human trait of scientific curiosity.

The expeditions had been set in motion in 1716, when Edmond Halley suggested the worldwide scientific project, knowing that he himself would not be around for the transits.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transformed by the Transit May 15, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Andrea Wulf has done it again - she has taken technical, historical scientific material and transformed it into a real page-turner. The author weaves a tale of an eighteenth century race against time and weather to observe and measure the rarely seen phenomenon - the transit of Venus. Furthermore, she explains in layman's terms how these measurements were used to not only calculate the distance from the earth to the sun, but also to catalyze an international community of scientists who elevated themselves above border disputes and wars.
For the reader who also enjoyed THE BROTHER GARDENERS, you will enjoy the tie-in to this book as you read more about Captain Cook's journey to Tahiti along with his passenger, Joseph Banks.
The only 21st century transit of Venus is occurring soon. Read CHASING VENUS now so you can appreciate this rare occurrence.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief Narrative June 30, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Prospective buyers should know how slight this book is. The hardcover edition is 336 pages, but in the Kindle edition, about half of it is notes. Most of the text is narrative of the principal astronomical expeditions of 1761 and 1769, concentrating on the difficulty of traveling by ship, carriage, and sledge. The math and science involved are almost totally absent. Nor is there much discussion of the instruments and techniques used by the observers. You could get more science from the Wikipedia article about the transit of Venus and related articles about the astronomers and their instruments. So, although the book is well written, I can't really recommend it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars not Super, but worth the read
Not as exciting as I hoped. But was good on history. Thanks
Published 2 months ago by William P. Gilbreath
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Charles K. Blackwell
2.0 out of 5 stars A detailed account, but reads like a term paper
As most reviewers have pointed out, this book was meticulously researched, but that may also be its downfall. Read more
Published 9 months ago by C. Bracken
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-woven
This is a very interesting book about the world's first global scientific collaboration: the monumental efforts made in 1761 - and again in 1769 - to measure the transit-times of... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Audiobook Bandit
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly better than "The Day the World Discovered the Sun"
This is the second book on the transit of Venus that I have read. The first one was The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Steve G
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Blowing!
This book is mind blowing in an incredible way! The details bring every person in this to life and make history feel like present day events. Read more
Published 19 months ago by scopegal
5.0 out of 5 stars Should Be Everyday writing
Very enjoyable
Obviously well researched and painfully pieced together then linked as a tapestry
well threaded.

We take for granted so much today w/o thinking. Read more
Published 23 months ago by music man
5.0 out of 5 stars Transits of Venus
A transit of Venus is a kind of solar eclipse in which the planet Venus, rather than the Moon, crosses in front of the Sun. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Paul Moskowitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Transits of Venus
A transit of Venus is a kind of solar eclipse in which the planet Venus, rather than the Moon, crosses in front of the Sun. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Paul Moskowitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Transits of Venus
A transit of Venus is a kind of solar eclipse in which the planet Venus, rather than the Moon, crosses in front of the Sun. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Paul Moskowitz
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