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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Paperback – 3 Sep 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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  • Winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2009.



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Product details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; first edition (3 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007149530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007149537
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Product Description

Review

'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

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

‘“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” Wordsworth recalled, thinking of the fall of the Bastille in 1789. But Richard Holmes's exuberant group biography celebrates the scientific revolution that preceded and outsoared the political one, changing life, the universe and everything in the last decades of the 18th century… 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. He believes that we must engage the minds of young people with science by writing about it in a new way, entering imaginatively into the biographies of individual scientists and showing what makes them just as creative as poets, painters and musicians. The Age of Wonder is offered, with due modesty, as a model, and it succeeds inspiringly’ John Carey, Sunday Times ‘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 ‘vividly conveys the compelling fusion of art and science in the 18th century...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 ‘If ever there was an argument for a biographical analysis of complex scientific and technological history, this is it...well paced and rich in detail...Heartbreaking accounts of hope and fears, ambitions and disappointments dance along the pages. Even the choice of pictures gives us new insights into old favourites...There is no dry page in this visceral, spirited and sexy account’ The Times ‘Richard Holmes's stellar collective biography...gives a gripping account of the scientific research that inspired a sense of wonder in poets and experimenters alike....fascinating...this beautifully crafted book deserves all the praise it will undoubtedly attract. Well-researched and vividly written The Age of Wonder will fascinate scientists and poets alike’ Literary Review ‘Holmes triumphantly shows the Romantic age was one of symbiosis rather than opposition...no biographer is better than Holmes at evoking the thrill of the chase....elegant ....fascinating...entrancing’ Sunday Telegraph ‘Exhilarating...instructive and delightful...finely observed...generous and hugely enjoyable’ Daily Telegraph ‘Romanticism and Science are justly reunited in Richard Holmes's new book....a revelation....thrilling’ Independent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had high hopes for this book and the first 6 of the 10 chapters were fascinating. I learnt all about people whose names we've all heard of but perhaps know very little about - Joseph Banks, William Herschel, Mungo Park and Humphrey Davy - in an entertaining, narrative way full of anecdotes and interesting facts. When you see how their lives begin to overlap and connect it adds another fascinating dimension. By chapter 7, however, the book has begun to lose its way and almost reads like another book. It becomes weighed down with poetic references, literary history and the vitalism debate that neither engage nor entertain. It picks up again towards the end with the likes of Farraday and Babbage so I ended it on a positive note. It's worth reading definitely, but be prepared for a bit of page-flicking in the middle.
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By Dr David Mankin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The late 18th and early 19th Centuries saw science change our understanding of the world - the universe - we inhabit at a fundamental level. The Herschells mapped the stars, discovered new plaets and comets, and proved that our galaxy is just one of millions. Humphrey Davy discovered new elements and introduced us to the beginnings of electricity. Anatomists studied circulation, and wondered what particular form of electricity animated the human body - and the human soul. Balloonists conquered the skies thanks to science, and science influenced the Romantic poets too - Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Southey. Above it all sat the hugely influential Royal Society and the polymath Joseph Banks. And as a subtext underneath it all lay the studiously avoided question of God's role in all this, which came to the fore in the next generation of scientists.

Richard Holmes's book shows us this world, where science and the arts were not yet distinct but complementary. A world where people were both fascinated, repelled and terrified of these discoveries. A world which he portrays brilliantly. I'm not a scientist, but I understood all the science, and I found myself wanting to know more. The stars of this book, the men and women making all these discoveries, are drawn with affection that is not blinded by admiration, and in every case, the narrative ensures that the reader is aware of the wider context, the wider implications. It's a very close world in many ways, a world where it sometimes seems as if everyone corresponds with everyone else, or is a member of the same club, or is best friends with, or married to, another star.

This is a book that anyone interested in the age where the Englightenment gave way to the Romantics. It is a book whose successor I would love to read, though it seems it's not yet written. But hopefully soon. It's a book I'd highly recommend.
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