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The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Great Discoveries) Paperback – December 14, 2009

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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.)
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“Lemonick paints a vibrant and revealing picture of these two scientists whose painstaking observation and cataloguing paved the way for modern astronomy.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (December 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039333709X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337099
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #824,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Julie Lakehomer on September 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By Kindle Customer on January 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 By Radioflyer55 on 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Matt Boisen on May 7, 2014
Format: Paperback
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 the Hanoverian Guards, marching into battle with the French in the Thirty Years' War." The Thirty Years' War ended in 1648, ninety years before Herschel was born. It was actually the Seven Years' War he was referring to. And on page 23, "...William's great great grandfather, Hans Herschel, had been a brewer in the town of Pirna, two miles from Dresden in the state of Hanover" Pirna and Dresden are and have always been in Saxony, some 200 miles to the east of Hannover. And Pirna is 18 miles from Dresden, not two. From "PIONEERS OF PROGRESS: MEN OF SCIENCE, the chapter entitled "HERSCHEL" by the Rev Hector MacPherson:
"The illustrious astronomer came of an old German family, and was descended from one of three brothers, who, on account of steadfast devotion to the principles of Protestantism, were driven out of Moravia in the early part of the seventeenth century and compelled to seek refuge in Saxony. Hans Herschel, one of these brothers, settled at Pirna in Saxony. His second son, Abraham,born in 1651, acquired some distinction as a landscape-gardener. He learned gardening in the Elector's gardens at Dresden, and was afterwards employed, until his death in 1718, at the country-seat of Hohentziatz, in the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, near Magdeburg." Abraham's youngest son Isaac," at the age of twenty-one, having decided to follow music as his life-work, he went to Berlin to study. Finding " the Prussian service as a bandsman very bad and slavish," he went to Potsdam and took lessons for a year.
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