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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Hardcover – July 14, 2009
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Oliver Sacks is the author of Musicophilia, Awakenings,The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and many other books, for which he has received numerous awards, including the Hawthornden Prize, a Polk Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and lives in New York City, where he is a practicing neurologist. Read his exclusive guest review of The Age of Wonder:
I am a Richard Holmes addict. He is an incomparable biographer, but in The Age of Wonder, he rises to new heights and becomes the biographer not of a single figure, but of an entire unique period, when artist and scientist could share common aims and ambitions and a common language--and together create a "romantic," humanist science. We are once again on the brink of such an age, when science and art will come together in new and powerful ways. For this we could have no better model than the lives of William and Caroline Herschel and Humphry Davy, whose dedication and scientific inventiveness were combined with a deep sense of wonder and poetry in the universe. Only Holmes, who is so deeply versed in the people and culture of eighteenth-century science, could tell their story with such verve and resonance for our own time.
(Photo © Elena Seibert)
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The narrative is built around a series of significant individuals, for whom the author creates scientific biographies. The first is Joseph Banks (1743-1820) who became the godfather of British science during this period from his post as President of the Royal Society. One of the major sciences that underwent development during this period was astronomy; several chapters are devoted to the pathbreaking work of William Herschel (who discovered Uranus) and his sister Carolyn who pioneered new developments and telescopic designs. In the process their work turned the attention of artists to the skies and the evolutin of universe. A chapter catches the excitement of early balloonists and the Romantic wake they left behind as they explored the skies. Exploration was anordsother feature of the period, and was encouraged by Banks who had been on Cook's first voyage to the South Pacific.Read more ›
Here's a quote from John Herschel in the book that to me captures some of the sense of the Age of Wonder:
"To the natural philosopher there is no natural object unimportant or trifling...A mind that has once imbibed a taste for scientific enquiry has within itself an inexhaustible source of pure and exciting contemplations. One would think that Shakespeare had such a mind in view when he describes a contemplative man finding:
Tongues in trees - books in the running brooks
Sermons in stones - and good in everything
Where the uninformed and unenquiring eye perceives neither novelty nor beauty, he walks in the midst of wonders."
I know we all have our particular tastes, but this was for me the best book I've read - on any topic.
I am fascinated by the history of science and technology. This book is a must for those interested in a broad overview of the time period covered. Davy, those wonderful and crazy fellows with air balloons, the voyages to the Pacific to explore....and so on. A real delight is how the author eemplifies what CP Snow alluded to as two cultures---science and the humanities. In this book they find one another. There's even some hints of sex...scientists and sex--what a tease!
Just as important as its relevancy is the writing. This is a gifted author. His writing flows effortless, it is punctuated with pithy observations (e.g., the author must have had a great time visiting the homes and neighborhoods of many of the main characters--how poignant that most are still there but not even celebrated for what happened there).
The book made me wish that we might still have individual greatness in the sciences, that we had something akin to a singular scientific academy like the one that existed in those days. Perhaps a hundred years from now humans will be able to recognize, like this author, the important social, literary, and scientific currents that flow through today. I hope so.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All the interesting minds of inventors, chemists, astronomers scientists that gave us the wonders and amazements we enjoy today, opened our minds to the far reaching boundaries of... Read morePublished 25 days ago by Prestoni
"Age of Wonder" is valued for what one learns, and for characters such as Davy (who one knew a bit) and Caroline Herschel
(who one didn't). Read more
I should qualify my view of this book with the fact that I was an amateur astronomer growing up and fell in love with telescopes and the stars and planets. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Randy Sales
Extremely informative analysis of the evolution of scientific principles and the scientists involved coupled with the provision of a wonderful understanding of the vital importance... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Peter Farrell
Overall, a very enjoyable book. Far be it from me to be overly critical of such a wonderful book but the text is a bit short on the history of science with a great deal of... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Joseph Annunzio
One of the finest books in this genre. A must read for science entusiastsPublished 11 months ago by GIRIJA SUNDAR
Fascinating for anyone interested in the history of science and the intersections between artistic and scientific modes of thought.Published 11 months ago by Margaret Flaherty
so good I bought copies for friends. Encyclopedic knowledge of the work of early scientists, lucidly shared.Published 11 months ago by Rugby3