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Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas Hardcover – 4 Dec 1997


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 556 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press (4 Dec 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198500319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198500315
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 4.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,245,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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a masterly biography that can easily flesh out your imaginings. an erudite, thorough and extremely readable biography based on primary sources. Cook provides us with a masterly insight not only into Halley's science but also into the relationship between Halley and the society of the day. This book is very well illustrated and extremely well referenced. It is a worthy tribute to the life of this country's second greatest scientist. New Scientist

About the Author

Alan Cook was Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and head of the Physics Department in Cambridge University.

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EDMOND HALLEY lived in pregnant times. Read the first page
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 Jan 1998
Format: Hardcover
Edmond Halley is famous for his comet - or more specifically for showing that the comet returned by calculating its orbit. We also know of his relationship with Isaac Newton, and Halley's crucial role in the publishing of Newton's Principia from Westfall's major biography of Netwon.
Alan Cook has produced a well researched and sympathetic biography of Halley. Here we find details of Halley's upbringing, his voyage to St Helena to survey the southern skies and observe a transit of Venus, and his appraisal of Hevelius's observations by naked eye compared with telescopically aided observations. There is a basic account of his marriage (Mary Halley has left little trace behind her) and a good account of Halley's finances. The circimstances of the murder of his father are explored, and once again we are reminded of the autocratic and mercantile flavour of those times.
There is a full account of Halley's sea voyages, undertaken as they were in tiny unstable wooden ships. His mapping of the magnetic deviation of the compass, and of the tides and depth of the sea in the Channel mark Halley as perhaps one of the first government scientists.
Halley's time as the Royal Astronomer is documented, together with his fractious time at the Chester Mint during the recoinage overseen by Newton. Cook provides a mildly critical account of Halley's involvement with the publication of Flamsteed's star catalogue.
Halley is shown as a man of action, a shaper, and a man prepared to trust his judgement in difficult circumstances. This is a sharp contrast to the Newton revealed by Westfall's book, the obsessive and semi-reclusive thinker concerned mainly with his own thoughts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A well-deserved work on a fascinating scientist... 7 Dec 2001
By John Rummel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
An outstandingly thorough and meticulously researched biography of one of history's most outstanding scientists. Matters related to events in Halley's life are notoriously difficult to reconstruct. He was not a pack-rat like Newton or Kepler, and failed to keep thorough diaries like Hooke. Biographers have to rely on the notes of others, public records, and published papers. Cook rises to the occasion and has produced a biographic work that will rival those of of other important scientists of the era.
Though remembered chiefly for the comet that bears his name, Halley was a scientist of extraordinary breadth and depth. Cook reconstructs all the major categories of Halley's productivity. Chapters are devoted to his youth, the year spent at St. Helena mapping the southern stars, his key role in prying the Principia out of Newton, his role in the quest for longitude at sea, his years as the Astronomer Royal, as well as his career on the high seas, both as a ship's captain (civilian) and scientist/explorer. A scientist like Halley demands a biography of considerable scope, and Cook delivers.
As much as any biography I've read, Cook's "Halley" spends considerable space delving into the contemporary zeitgeist. The 30 page opening chapter "Halley's World," is a splendid essay on the culture and spiritual/political/popular world of the late 17th and early 18th century in Great Britain and Europe.
This book is not an easy read, but it is absolutely essential for any student of the golden age of science. Halley lived in Newton's shadow, but was never eclipsed. Cook has done the literary world a great service in this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This well researched book gives a rich view of Halley 22 Jan 1998
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Edmond Halley is famous for his comet - or more specifically for showing that the comet returned by calculating its orbit. We also know of his relationship with Isaac Newton, and Halley's crucial role in the publishing of Newton's Principia from Westfall's major biography of Netwon.
Alan Cook has produced a well researched and sympathetic biography of Halley. Here we find details of Halley's upbringing, his voyage to St Helena to survey the southern skies and observe a transit of Venus, and his appraisal of Hevelius's observations by naked eye compared with telescopically aided observations. There is a basic account of his marriage (Mary Halley has left little trace behind her) and a good account of Halley's finances. The circimstances of the murder of his father are explored, and once again we are reminded of the autocratic and mercantile flavour of those times.
There is a full account of Halley's sea voyages, undertaken as they were in tiny unstable wooden ships. His mapping of the magnetic deviation of the compass, and of the tides and depth of the sea in the Channel mark Halley as perhaps one of the first government scientists.
Halley's time as the Royal Astronomer is documented, together with his fractious time at the Chester Mint during the recoinage overseen by Newton. Cook provides a mildly critical account of Halley's involvement with the publication of Flamsteed's star catalogue.
Halley is shown as a man of action, a shaper, and a man prepared to trust his judgement in difficult circumstances. This is a sharp contrast to the Newton revealed by Westfall's book, the obsessive and semi-reclusive thinker concerned mainly with his own thoughts.
Halley's world is described, and his interactions with Wren, Hooke, Pepys and the royal households of the time are well documented. The myth of Halley's poverty after his father's murder is laid to rest with some detailed examination of estates, wills and chancery court proceedings.
There are technical details of the Venus transit measurements, and a very welcome analysis of Newton's lunar theory, together with a statistical comparison of the Moon positions of Halley and Flamsteed.
Alan Cook is a scientist and a busy academic administrator. The book is composed in 15 chapters each divided into many sections. One has the image of a busy man typing the odd page or two when possible, and the text does not 'flow' as a narrative. You get the facts with sound judgements backed up by references.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Amazing life and a book that needs editing 5 Jan 2013
By Daniel Putman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The life of Halley is one that can leave a modern reader in disbelief. Halley was of course an astronomer. He was also a mathematician, one of only a handful who understood Newton's Principia. He was also an inventor, the first person to figure out the possibilities of a diving bell. Not only did he conceptualize such an underwater device but he spent a significant amount of time underwater in treacherous conditions testing and working on it. Halley was also a seaman who captained a 60 foot long ship, called a "pink," across the Atlantic twice on scientific expeditions. On the first voyage he had to deal with a disruptive second-in-command who thought Halley was an incompetent aristocrat and whom Halley had to confine to quarters for a time. On the second he captained his little ship around the Atlantic, ranging from the South Atlantic (and seeing penguins) to Brazil to Newfoundland. He was also a military engineer who worked for the government designing forts and defenses in the Adriatic. But, perhaps of most lasting significance, Halley was a scientific visionary. He encouraged the much more reclusive Newton to organize his ideas and publish the Principia, personally paid for and guided the book through the press, and then made sure that all the most important scientists in Europe got a copy. As Augustus de Morgan said of Halley, "But for him (Halley), in all human probability, that work would not have been thought of, nor when thought of written, nor when written printed." We all know Halley by the comet and we may envy him for having such a spectacular object named after him. But perhaps it is not that much a blessing for the man. It gives us a very narrow focus on him when, in fact, he lived an incredibly rich and productive scientific life and laid the groundwork for so much of what we take for granted. He is so much more than his image.

This is great stuff so it is that much more unfortunate that the life of this man is written in such a disorganized and repetitive way by Alan Cook. Cook covers all the details; his scholarship is impeccable. But the book badly needs editing. Points are repeated often - the de Morgan quote above, for example, is given twice. Cook very often introduces terminology without any definitions. This is fine if one is already working in a field but to the general reader it leads to a head-scratching trip to the dictionary. This problem is especially acute in the life of Halley because he was involved in so many different areas of science. A good example is the "saronic cycle" of the moon. Cook uses the phrase several times and finally near the end of the book actually gives a definition of it - something that should have been done much earlier. Cook also devotes large sections of some chapters to mathematical details of Halley's work which this reader could not follow at all. All this undoubtedly can be laid at the door of the reader's ignorance. But it seems to me that the burden of clarity should be on the writer. The point of the various mathematical demonstrations could be given clearly in prose and the actual math put in the appendices. Instead, it leads the nonmathematical reader to skip those parts. Cook also brings in names with little if any introductions. Again, an expert would have no problem here but not so the general reader. Thus, unless the reader is knowledgeable in several fields - astronomy, mathematics, geometry, engineering, British history - he or she will be quite frustrated at times in reading the book. The lack of clear explanations in places, the weak or missing transitions, and the repetitiveness all show that the book could have used the strong hand of a good editor.

Yet I recommend it. Beyond question Edmond Halley deserves a modern biography and they are few and far between. If you can work through the organizational problems in this book, it is worth reading because Halley himself was an amazing man. Cook has all the details and the scholarship here. That is the book's strength. While I wish the book had been smoother reading, it was worth finding out so much more about the book's subject.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Edmond Halley Edmond Halley Edmond Halley 20 Nov 2006
By J. Frakes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I don't know of any more repetitious dissonance than this effort. I looked forward to an examination of Halley's life, understanding that he left little in the way of personal documentation. That's why I looked to a research scholar. But here we get a smattering of details restated endlessly and a complete dismissal if any attempt at characterization of Halley in the flesh. Halley was, in fact, an intellect, scientist, spy, a cursing seaman, and vigorous modern man in the awakening era of 17th Century England. He wove an interesting path among high political power, great scientists, publishers, shipmates, and London society with almost defiant, irreligious self-assurance. He was married, raised children, and developed Newton's new mathematics into practical results others could understand. We see none of this in Cook's account. The text is dry enough that by midway through I had developed a cough complete with clouds of dust. The author is judiciously reluctant to draw any conclusions or added insight from the details commingled throughout. And the repetition is unbearable. Some statements are made a dozen or more times. It's a cacophony that make one almost dizzy and then, at last, the noise simply ends. If you want more, simply extract any 40 paragraphs at random and string them on at the end. Like the comet, it would just keep going round and round.
Five Stars 16 Oct 2014
By pedro francisco marco gonzález - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this kind of books, especially those tell extraordinary and real stories and magnificently edited, like this one
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