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The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Great Discoveries) Hardcover – November 17, 2008
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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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Lemonick is a gifted writer and the reader will find here one of the finest scientific biographies on the market. The Herschels went from being first rate musicians (William and his brothers were prodigies and Caroline became a beautiful singer by practicing with a gag in her mouth) to being masters of an emerging science. They deserve an excellent modern biography and they have it in this book.
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.