Reviews for The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
by Richard Holmes
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
As a researcher of British science during the Romantic period of English literature, Holmes suitably emphasizes the individual facing nature, so characteristic of the Romantic sensibility. Alighting on astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) and chemist Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), both of whom were artistic (music and poetry, respectively), Holmes connects them via botanist Joseph Banks. In a precursor to a modern pattern, Banks moved from his youthful success as a naturalist on James Cook's voyages into administration president of the Royal Society and promoted both Herschel and Davy. They came to Banks' notice seemingly from nowhere, and their determination to discover is well told in Holmes' biographical narratives. Elevated to societal notice, Herschel and especially Davy excited popular interest in ultimate questions their scientific findings seemed to open up, questions whose ripples into the literature of Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley Holmes elaborates. Readers interested in any of these figures, or in the lives of astronomer Caroline Herschel and explorer Mungo Park, have in Holmes a fine guide to the arts and sciences, Romantic style.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist
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While Romanticism in Great Britain is known mostly as an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement, rapid and revolutionary scientific discoveries were an underlying catalyst to the era's vaunted sense of "wonder." It was also a period when remarkable individuals working alone could make major contributions to knowledge. Historian and biographer Holmes (Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage) conveys the history of Romantic-era science through vivid biographies of a few such individuals. Notable among them are Joseph Banks, a botanist whose experiences in Tahiti were life-changing; William Herschel, the eccentric astronomer who (aided invaluably by his devoted sister, Caroline) discovered the planet Uranus; and Humphrey Davy, an intrepid chemist who conducted gas inhalation experiments on himself. These and others are depicted against the cultural tapestry of an age of idealism, which was both fueled and threatened by the advances of science. The subject makes this book most relevant for readers of general science and history of science, but its engaging narratives of the period could appeal to a broader readership. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/09.]-Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Authored by well-known writer/biographer Holmes, this interesting description of the "second scientific revolution" or "Romantic science" is an excellent history of both the onset of the Romantic period and the account of scientific discoveries. The first scientific revolution, late in the 17th century, can be considered to have been "private," practiced and known primarily by insiders. As the era's writers and artists (Romantics) became aware of these scientific discoveries, this second revolution became public, with writings often authored by women and shared with children. The primary actors in this scientific drama are astronomers/siblings William and Caroline Herschel and polymath Humphrey Davy. The period described is delineated by the voyages of Joseph Banks, who sailed around the world with Captain Cook in the 1760s, and of Charles Darwin on the Beagle in the 1830s. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley sowed the seeds of future unrest between science and literature, the arts, and religion, relationships that were initially quite favorable to all. A "Cast List" at the end of the book briefly describes additional influential individuals during this period. Of interest to readers in a number of disciplines as well as general readers for pleasure. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All libraries. R. E. Buntrock formerly, University of Maine