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The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Great Discoveries) [Hardcover]

Michael Lemonick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

10 Feb 2009 Great Discoveries
Responsible for the greatest advances in astronomy since Copernicus, William and Caroline Herschel transformed our view of the heavens. A trained musician, amateur scientist William found international fame after discovering the planet Uranus in 1781. His partnership with his sister Caroline yielded groundbreaking work, including techniques that remain in use today. The duo pioneered comprehensive surveys of the night sky, carefully categorising every visible object in the void. Caroline wrote an influential catalogue of nebulae and William discovered infrared radiation. Michael Lemonick guides readers through the depths of the solar system and into his protagonists' private lives. Erudite and accessible, "The Georgian Star" is a lively portrait of the pair who invented modern astronomy.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (10 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039306574X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065749
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 14.6 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,170,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A brief, readable account of a fascinating pair who laid the foundations for the modern study of astronomy." The Scotsman "In this very readable biography of the 18th-century astronomer siblings William and Caroline Herschel, Michael Lemonick attempts to pin down just what their greatest achievements were." Emily Winterburn, New Scientist "This is an engaging and accessible biography...Full of anecdotes and insights into the personalities of the Herschel siblings, this book is an informative and entertaining introduction to two astronmers who changed the way we observe and understand the Universe." Astronomy Now --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

* MICHAEL LEMONICK teaches at Princeton, Columbia and Johns Hopkins Universities. The author of several books, he was formerly a senior science writer at Time. * Author website: and blog:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book about amazing siblings. 13 Dec 2011
By Sebastian Palmer TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It was Richard Holme's fabulously inspiring The Age of Wonder that introduced me to the Herschels. And I was blown away, totally smitten! I knew that at some point I'd want to learn more about them, so I eventually got round to buying this book. A short and easy read, it didn't add masses to what I'd already learned, and I think I prefer Holmes' writing style to Lemonick's. But, this said, Lemonick writes very well indeed and the book, by dint of being solely about William and Caroline, does delve a little deeper and contain a little more detail than the two chapters in Holmes' book that cover these two amazing people.

What William Herschel achieved, thanks to his audacity, industry, irrepressible and almost maniacally driven character, is simply astonishing. And that he took his sister along with him for the ride, enabling her to become a celebrated astronomer in her own right (indeed, as far as we know the world's first profesional, i.e. salaried, female astronomer*) just adds to the depth and warmth of the tale. Quite what Herschel might've been like to be around is hard to say, although he seems to have charmed most people he met, helping a complete outsider - neither a 'gentlemen' nor a professional 'natural philosopher' - become not only the world's pre-eminent astronomer, but also the greatest manufacturer of the best quality telescopes and a cosmologist of the first rank. Indeed, his work so greatly expanded our concepts of the cosmos that he might arguably be said to be in the very first rank of what today we understand to be meant by the term cosmologist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Georgian Star, by Michael Lemonick 3 Sep 2009
By Julie Lakehomer - Published on
The Georgian Star, by Michael Lemonick, is the biography of William Herschel and his sister Caroline Herschel. In 1781, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. As Lemonick points out, this made Herschel the first discoverer of a planet, since Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn had been visible and known to anyone who cared to look up at the night sky for all of human history.

Herschel became more and more interested in astronomy. He bought books on the subject, studied the heavens through telescopes, and began making his own telescopes. With Caroline's help, he began spending every free minute, day and night, on astronomy. He invented the technique of making repeated sweeps of the entire night sky, cataloguing everything he found. In the midst of it all, he came upon the new planet. We call this planet Uranus, but at the time, Herschel's science colleagues urged him to name the planet for King George III. In this way, Herschel earned the King's favor and was freed at last from having to make a living with music.

Throughout The Georgian Star, Mike Lemonick quotes from Caroline Herschel's wry, humorous diary about her brother's frenetic days and nights, and about her own award-winning contributions. William Herschel discovered more than 2000 nebulae, hundreds of paired stars, and infra-red radiation. He tracked the direction of the migration of our Solar System through the Milky Way, and realized that starlight we presently see has taken so long to reach us, the stars whose light it is might well have burned out by now.

The Georgian Star combines science, history, and human interest so beautifully, we are sorry to come to the end of the book
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating... 8 Mar 2009
By Cynthia K. Robertson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos by Michael D. Lemonick is a fascinating look at two astronomers who are little known but have made tremendous contributions to our understanding of astronomy.

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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Story 5 Jan 2009
By M. Kramer - Published on
The "Great Discoveries" series books are short and enjoyable; this volume is no exception. The Herschel story is fascinating, and well told. I had no idea of the extent of William and Caroline's contributions to astronomy and cosmology prior to reading it. The Bibliography lists several books that are hard to find, making this book an important contribution.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but short. 25 Feb 2012
By Radioflyer55 - Published on
Verified Purchase
I guess I was expecting a large book like the Messier book I have. Having said that, it was an enjoyable fast read. I would have liked to seen notes and sketches on their discoveries. Still, I got this book used and it was enjoyable to read about their lives. An easy read. Buy it used or check it out at the library. Not worth the full price.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two commoners who brought the celestial heavens down to Earth 7 April 2010
By Sacramento Book Review - Published on
The title of this latest publication in the Great Discoveries series of books aptly describes the content of this neat paperback. At the time of the American Revolution, a German musician seeking a better opportunity transferred to England and thence became obsessed with the celestial patterns. An autodidact, William Herschel picked up English, Latin, Greek, mathematics and then turned to studying the skies. To better view the cosmos, he designed and built his own telescopes.

Among his discoveries were the planets Uranus and Saturn, and their associated moons along with assorted nebulae. Uranus was named the Georgian Star in honor of King George III, who prior to succumbing to his genetic malady, was impressed by the discoveries and served as patron to this brilliant cosmologist.

Shining alongside her star struck brother was younger sister Caroline, who not only assisted in the star sightings, but herself became so fascinated in the study that independently she sighted and is credited with comet recognition and recording galactic changes.

This is truly a fascinating chronicle of a gifted musical family in the late 1700s whose findings are now being corroborated in our technological age. It is an inspiring story not only from the celestial view, but it serves as a reflection of the social and historical customs of the times, and also gives insights into the nature of the human character.

Reviewed by Rita Hoots
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