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Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel Hardcover – January 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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Review

"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. . . . 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."--Publishers Weekly

"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."--Peter Rodgers, 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."--Nature

"[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, Literary Review

"This is very readable and deeply informed."--Steven Carroll, The Age

"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, Times Higher Education

"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, Astroguyz

"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, Montgomery News

"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 Astronomical History and Heritage

"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, Journal of the British Astronomical Association

"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."--Choice

"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, Observatory

"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, Santa Fe New Mexican Pasa Tiempo

"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."--Álvaro 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

"This book should now become the standard entry point to the considerable body of historical literature on the Herschels as well as to the primary literature . . . Hoskin's deep knowledge of Hershel's techniques and instruments allows him to understand and explain the challenges and constraints that shaped the way they worked and drove the constant technical innovations that were part of the reasons for their spectacular success. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this book is the detailed and occasionally even intimate insights into the very origins of modern astronomy in the real night-by-night work of William and Caroline."--James Lattis, European Legacy
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691148333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148335
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Maine_Yooper on April 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
History used to be too dry with too many dates and places I was told were important and that I needed to know. Then I took a writing class in college that had us read copies of first-hand accounts of an event, and then try our hand at writing about them. From this point on history became more alive and interesting to me. (This was well before satellite tv with its gazillions of shows to pick from.) Then a decade ago I discovered the joys of books on CDs, making the commute more interesting. I started "reading" histories.

More to the point, I recently took up astronomy, and have had some excellent views of various deep space objects and near space objects. I discovered Rod Mollise's blog. He was working on something he called the Herschel Project, trying to observe all 2,500 or so objects that someone called Herschel had observed back in the mid-1700s. At one point, Rod mentioned this book, and said he liked what he had read so far. So I took a chance and bought the Kindle edition.

It was well worth the investment. As an American, I tend to view the last 1700s as the time of the American Revolution. This is the life story of a man and his sister who were new to England and trying to make a life for themselves. William Herschel was a musician, composer, and music teacher. His sister also gifted with musical talent. You can find symphonies and concertos written by Herschel and recorded by modern orchestras on Amazon. I downloaded some of those too, for a little "astro" music, although the music isn't "spacey" at all, but really quite enjoyable.

William Herschel and Caroline Herschel were keen-eyed observers using their home-made telescopes.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting and informative book about William
and Caroline Herschel. Not only did it detail their incredible work
in building telescopes to view the heavens, but it also gave insight
into their family relationships and historical background as they
worked for King George III. They were true geniuses who went
frim being musicians ti discovering Uranus. What makes this story even better us that it really happened!
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