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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This well researched book gives a rich view of Halley, 22 Jan 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (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.
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Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas
Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas by Alan Cook (Hardcover - 4 Dec 1997)
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