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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2012


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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens + The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession + Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Vintage)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307700178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700179
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

 
“Excellent. . . . Chasing Venus is beautifully paced, alternating between expeditions, with lush descriptions of the often arduous journeys involved.”
     —Owen Gingerich, Nature
 
“Outstanding. . . . It’s the book of the year so far—do not miss it!”
     —Ian Welland, Astronomy Now

“Andrea Wulf has now chronicled the 18th-century transit expeditions in a narrative light on astronomical detail but rich in personalities and adventures. The race was the 1760s version of reality TV — a cross between Amazing Race and Survivor. People waited to see which astronomers would make it and which wouldn’t, and to learn whether all the time and money was worth it. Wulf doesn’t entirely resolve that question, but she does wonderfully sketch the race for scientific, and patriotic, glory.”
     —Alexandra Witze, Dallas Morning News
 
“Another fine example of such scientific storytelling. . . . Narrated with elegant expertise.”
     —Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
 
“The 18th century stargazers whom Andrea Wulf describes . . . would put Indiana Jones to shame. . . . Here is a book both astrophysicists and poets can enjoy.” 
     —Matthew Price, The Boston Globe
 
Chasing Venus is [a] thrilling adventure story. . . . Wulf’s marvelous eye for detail and talent for simplifying complex science make the book, timed for release a month before the last transit of this century, well worth reading before June.”
     —Ann Levin, The Denver Post
 
“[An] enthusiastic account. . . . With the next transit predicted for June 6, 2012, Wulf’s well-handled history arrives in a timely manner.”
     —Booklist
 
“[Wulf] clearly explains how Venus’ transit across the sun, which occurs every 105 years (and each time does so twice, at eight-year intervals—one will occur in June 2012), gave Enlightenment astronomers a chance to figure out such things as the distance between the earth and the sun. . . . Enlightening Enlightenment fare.”
     —Kirkus, starred review

About the Author

ANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 and winner of the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award, and of Founding Gardeners; she is the coauthor (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. She has written for The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, and she reviews for several newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Times Literary Supplement.


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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
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See all 20 customer reviews
The author writes very well.
G. Poirier
A century-long interval between transits makes the normal kind of solar eclipse seem like a frequent event.
Paul Moskowitz
The problem with this book is that there is little explanation of the science involved.
BernardZ

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James E. Morrison on May 17, 2012
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 By George Blaszczynski on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By H. Potter on 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jane L. Gray on 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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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