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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science [Kindle Edition]

Richard Holmes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)

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Product Description


'Exuberant… Holmes suffuses his book with the joy, hope and wonder of the revolutionary era. Reading it is like a holiday in a sunny landscape, full of fascinating bypaths that lead to unexpected vistas… it succeeds inspiringly'’ John Carey, Sunday Times

‘I am a Richard Holmes addict. He is an incomparable biographer, but in The Age of Wonder, he rises to new heights and becomes the biographer not of a single figure, but of an entire unique period, when artist and scientist could share common aims and ambitions and a common language … Only Holmes, who is so deeply versed in the people and culture of eighteenth-century science, could tell their story with such verve and resonance for our own time.’ Oliver Sacks

'"The Age of Wonder" gives us… a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigorating, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful' Jenny Uglow, Guardian

'This is a book to linger over, to savour the tantalising details of the minor figures… "The Age of Wonder" allows readers to recapture the combined thrill of emerging scientific order and imaginative creativity’ Lisa Jardine, Financial Times

Praise for Sidetracks

'A masterful study of the human heart - his, yours, mine - demonstrating that, in the right hands, biography can be the most dazzling literary form of all.' Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1073 KB
  • Print Length: 578 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400031877
  • Publisher: HarperPress (15 Oct 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002TZ3CWC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #30,988 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA, Kingston University and the University of East London, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000. 'The Age of Wonder' won the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2009 in the UK, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction 2010 in the USA.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
97 of 102 people found the following review helpful
I'm not a scientist. I have only a passing interest in the history of science. However, I'm c250 pages in and I am gripped. Holmes has the narrative skill of a great novelist, conjuring worlds and characters out of what could have so easily have been dry facts. Starting with Joseph Banks' experiences in Tahiti (he travelled as part of Cook's expedition), Holmes takes the reader into the mindset of the European encountering new, unknown worlds. In particular - in this case - their complex responses to the Tahitians' more open attitudes towards sex and sexuality. And that is one of the greatest strengths of the book. Whether it's dealing with Herschel and the discovery or Uranus or Davy and his lamp, The Age of Wonder is as much about the late 18th/early 19th century mind as it is about the science and scientists. Indeed, the book sees science through the eyes of the romantic movement (and a Britain in love with romanticism), so Coleridge, Keats and the Shelleys become major players in the narrative. Despite the focus on Herschel and Davy and their particular discoveries, the reader is compellingly immersed in a far wider exploration of ideas and culture in this period. The widespread excitement that scientific discovery generated is palpable and you can't help feeling that we have lost something very important in a world where science and the arts are so often perceived as near polar opposites. Wholeheartedly recommended to anyone in search of a rattling good read this Christmas, especially those who don't think that science is their pigeon.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 3 April 2009
I was given this as a Christmas present. Richard Holmes crafts a fascinating story that brings fully to life the period covered (late 18th and early 19th centuries). I was hooked from the first page as the exploits, discoveries and tribulations of Joseph Banks, William and Caroline Herschel, Mungo Park, Humphry Davy and a cast of other leading 'scientists' were woven together in a wonderful tapestry (no pun intended). Richard Holmes' prose is fluent and captivating. This is one book that really lives up to the blurb on the cover. Read it!
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent read 29 Mar 2009
There are plenty books written on modern science, exploration (geographical and scientific), fledgling scientific breakthroughs, romantic poetry, human psychology and biographies of major scientific protagonists (with all their vanities and petty jealousies, as well as their soft, fuzzy side) - but all this in ONE book? It's a masterpiece, beautifully written, wittily observed and carefully footnoted. Every page a delight.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Collection of Characters 2 Aug 2010
I had coveted this book for some time, thinking that it could almost be considered a follow-on from, if a more scientific (rather than industrial) version of Jenny Uglow's Lunar Men. However, although this was what I expected, it was not what I got.

I had ups and downs with this book. I found the first chapter covering Joseph Banks trip Tahiti a little difficult to get into and wondered if I had added the wrong book to my wish list. However, I think this is just me, having read about Banks as a Botanist, I guess I expected more botany and less anthropology. Once I got part way through the second chapter, focussing on William and Caroline Herschel I was hooked. I discovered about explorers and scientists (although that term was apparently a bit of a divisive subject) that I knew little or nothing about - Mungo Park, the various balloonists, even William Herschel was merely a name prior to this book.

The author skillfully weaves the characters in and out of the chapters. The aforementioned Joseph Banks appears in and out as president of the Royal Society, appropriately feted as a scientific talent spotter and mentor. Then we move onto the life of Humphrey Davy, and, to a lesser extent Michael Faraday, with guest appearances from the likes of Babbage and Mary Somerville. Also interwoven are the great poets and writers of the day; Shelley, Byron and Davy's great friend, Coleridge.

My only complaint from the book is that there is perhaps too much page room given to the poets and, indeed the poetry of, for example, Davy. It seems that there is so much of interest with the scientific figures and the legacy they left that it felt as though the stories of the scientists were sacrificed for poetry - perhaps that is just the miserable scientist in me!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genesis of Modern Science 17 Nov 2010
For those interested in how we know what we know, this is a fascinating book. The extraordinary fact that until the first manned balloons took off, no one had ever seen the world from above, and that was relatively recently. The speed with which discoveries occurred is remarkable. The certainty that the protagonists had that they would make new discoveries is also surprising. Although the stories are certainly interesting, the style is sometimes a little repetitive - phrases are reused and I sometimes found myself thinking I had already read a passage when in fact it was simply restating something said a few lines, paragraphs or pages before. All the same, very readable and a strong narrative - something I always look for in history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A time of gentle enlightenment 14 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book explains the major scientific discoveries of the romantic period ,the formation of the 'Royal Society' & the realisation that science was useful to mankind . The books follows the lives of important pioneers & their dedication to their subject . Good to read before R.Dawkins [Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting book.
Published 1 month ago by Mr D Waugh
3.0 out of 5 stars A series of well written biographies, though sometimes lacked focus
I bought this book on Kindle after catching a glimpse of it in a book store, thinking it's mainly about the science in the Romantic period, but in fact, it's about the people... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Just Arthur
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy and enjoyable read
A wonderful book with a romantic style of writing to complement the era about which it writes. For those who wish to read around the core science and purely out of interest!
Published 1 month ago by Anna H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
I genuinely could not put it down. What could have been a very dry history of a very important time for our view of the world turned out to be full of human foibles, dramas and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bertilak Hautdesert
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! Historic science brought to human terms!
I actually purchased this hard cover book by accident, thinking I was getting an E-book for my Kindle. But I'm certainly not sorry, as this author is brilliant! Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mr. J. H. Wheeler
5.0 out of 5 stars Connections through Science and Literature
I found this very absorbing, especially as the movers and shakers of the 18th and 19th century were so influential on each other in a variety of unexpected ways.
Published 3 months ago by V. Bodington
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, and well written
Brilliant writing gives you a real sense of the period. I found the sections of Banks, the Herschels and Davy completely gripping. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Chess Quant
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on the history of science
When The Age of Wonder was released a few years ago to many rave reviews, it was not long before it found its way onto my reading list. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. Meadows
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic first half...
...then it seemed to run out of steam and then has taken me a year to finish it. However, it's well worth reading.
Published 5 months ago by Richard Wilkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost Wonder-full
Can a history book be a page-turner? Can a science book? This one can. Holmes at his best - which may seem odd to those who (like me) found his Coleridge bios rather tedious... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Russell James
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