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The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Great Discoveries) [Kindle Edition]

Michael Lemonick
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“A bright, shiny gift to popular-science collections.”—Booklist

Trained as a musician, amateur scientist William Herschel found international fame after discovering the planet Uranus in 1781. Though he is still best known for this finding, his partnership with his sister Caroline yielded other groundbreaking work that affects how we see the world today. The Herschels made comprehensive surveys of the night sky, carefully categorizing every visible object in the void. Caroline wrote an influential catalogue of nebulae, and William discovered infrared radiation. Veteran science writer Michael D. Lemonick guides readers through the depths of the solar system and into his subjects’ private lives: William developed bizarre theories about inhabitants of the sun; he procured an unheard-of salary for Caroline from King George III even as he hassled over the funding for an enormous, forty-foot telescope; and the siblings feuded over William’s marriage but eventually reconciled.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former Time magazine science writer Lemonick provides an entertaining and illuminating look at a pathbreaking astronomical partnership. When William Herschel, in 1781, discovered Uranus (which he named the Georgian Star in hopes of getting much-needed funding from King George), he was a self-taught amateur astronomer earning his living as a musician. When the king offered Herschel £200 per year—a 50% drop in income—the astronomer gladly accepted the chance to become the king's astronomer. His goal was to discover how the universe was constructed, and Herschel, an obsessive observer, made a remarkable number of discoveries, including infrared radiation. He also taught his sister Caroline to help with his work, and soon she was publishing her own discoveries, hunting comets and cataloguing thousands of stars and nebulae. When the king agreed to give her a salary, she became the first paid woman scientist. Lemonick (Echo of the Big Bang) paints a vibrant and revealing picture of these two scientists whose painstaking observation and cataloguing paved the way for modern astronomy. 9 illus. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Lemonick paints a vibrant and revealing picture of these two scientists whose painstaking observation and cataloguing paved the way for modern astronomy.

Product Details

  • File Size: 315 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (December 14, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001UUJ61S
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,172,649 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Georgian Star, by Michael Lemonick September 3, 2009
The Georgian Star, by Michael Lemonick, is the biography of William Herschel and his sister Caroline Herschel. In 1781, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. As Lemonick points out, this made Herschel the first discoverer of a planet, since Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn had been visible and known to anyone who cared to look up at the night sky for all of human history.

Herschel became more and more interested in astronomy. He bought books on the subject, studied the heavens through telescopes, and began making his own telescopes. With Caroline's help, he began spending every free minute, day and night, on astronomy. He invented the technique of making repeated sweeps of the entire night sky, cataloguing everything he found. In the midst of it all, he came upon the new planet. We call this planet Uranus, but at the time, Herschel's science colleagues urged him to name the planet for King George III. In this way, Herschel earned the King's favor and was freed at last from having to make a living with music.

Throughout The Georgian Star, Mike Lemonick quotes from Caroline Herschel's wry, humorous diary about her brother's frenetic days and nights, and about her own award-winning contributions. William Herschel discovered more than 2000 nebulae, hundreds of paired stars, and infra-red radiation. He tracked the direction of the migration of our Solar System through the Milky Way, and realized that starlight we presently see has taken so long to reach us, the stars whose light it is might well have burned out by now.

The Georgian Star combines science, history, and human interest so beautifully, we are sorry to come to the end of the book
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating... March 8, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos by Michael D. Lemonick is a fascinating look at two astronomers who are little known but have made tremendous contributions to our understanding of astronomy.

In the 1700s, William and Caroline Herschel were born into a Germany family of talented musicians. William ended up in England (easy to do as George III of England was also the Elector of Hanover). He then smuggled his sister over when their mother refused to let her leave Germany (mother Anna did not want to lose Caroline's domestic services). Both siblings were professional musicians. Caroline was a singer, while William served as organist, choir master, composer and instrumentalist in various English churches. But both William and Caroline became fascinated by astronomy and began on a course to study the cosmos. In addition, he began building his own telescopes--which happened to be much stronger than those being used by professionals. William wasn't taken very seriously at first, but eventually earned the respect of professional scientists of the day. He was even awarded a pension by George III, which allowed him to quit music forever and focus all his energies on stargazing.

During his long life, William made many discoveries--including the planet, Uranus, as well as the existence of infrared radiation. His sister also made a number of discoveries (mostly comets) but was especially talented in organizing and cataloguing "all of the 2500 nebulae and star clusters she and William had discovered." Her efforts also earned her a pension from the king.

I find the study of astronomy fascinating, although if it gets too technical, my eyes begin to glaze over. The Georgian Star was the perfect book in explaining much about our knowledge of astronomy, but in an understandable way. Lemonick also explains how the work done by both William and Caroline is still relevant today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Story January 4, 2009
The "Great Discoveries" series books are short and enjoyable; this volume is no exception. The Herschel story is fascinating, and well told. I had no idea of the extent of William and Caroline's contributions to astronomy and cosmology prior to reading it. The Bibliography lists several books that are hard to find, making this book an important contribution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but short. February 25, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I guess I was expecting a large book like the Messier book I have. Having said that, it was an enjoyable fast read. I would have liked to seen notes and sketches on their discoveries. Still, I got this book used and it was enjoyable to read about their lives. An easy read. Buy it used or check it out at the library. Not worth the full price.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A very nice introduction to two great astronomers October 15, 2014
A short biography of the 18th Century astronomer, William Herschel. There is no definitive biography of Herschel, who was one of the greatest astronomers of his day (of all time, really); and this book does not try to be.
What it is is a nice introduction for people who think they would like to learn more about astronomy, and especially the history of astronomy. This book tells his story and puts it into the context of the times and of the progress of astronomy, telling of his early years in Hanover, Germany, his emigration to England, and subsequent career as a musician, before turning to astronomy.
He was responsible for many ideas that, while not always correct, did form the basis for new studies in astronomy, ones that have been pursued ever since. Cosmology is perhaps the one that benefited most from his achievements, but by no means is it the only one. The author describes these things and how they led to the work of other, later astronomers and how they fit in with what we know today.
But there's more. William Herschel came from a large family and his family did help him in his work; one major thing he did was to make telescopes, lots of telescopes. He decided, early on, to use reflecting telescopes, which meant grinding mirrors made of speculum metal instead of making large lenses. They made those mirrors from scratch oftentimes, casting them and then grinding and polishing them. The largest mirror was 48" in diameter. This required a lot of help, including that of some of his brothers.
But there's even more. His sister Caroline ("Lina", as he called her), joined her brother in England as a young woman and stayed with him until his death in 1822.
Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very informative. Thanks.
Published 5 months ago by LJ
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy History.. where was basic fact checking?
When I first started this book, I found in the first 25 pages two very glaring historical mistakes. Page 21: "His first job, at the age of thirteen, was a military bandsman with... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Matt Boisen
5.0 out of 5 stars First-rate scientific biography
This is an extremely well-written and engaging biography of William and Caroline Herschel. In less than 170 pages of text Michael Lemonick manages to include all the relevant... Read more
Published on January 14, 2013 by Daniel Putman
5.0 out of 5 stars Astronomy and its heroes
I enjoyed this book on many levels. Author Michael Lemonick crafted an interesting story from an important era in the history of astronomy. Read more
Published on October 7, 2012 by Steve G
5.0 out of 5 stars Two commoners who brought the celestial heavens down to Earth
The title of this latest publication in the Great Discoveries series of books aptly describes the content of this neat paperback. Read more
Published on April 7, 2010 by Sacramento Book Review
4.0 out of 5 stars Got me hooked on deeper research
As an amateur astronomer, I've always admired Herschel as sort of the model of our hobby: A skilled professional in another field (you can find recordings of his musical... Read more
Published on March 13, 2010 by C. M. Levin
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
Fast delivery and excellent customer service (when I made a mistake on shipping - it was handled with exceptional customer service on Amazon's end) I have been shopping from Amazon... Read more
Published on January 31, 2009 by shawk
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