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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling story, 2 Jun 2011
D. P. Mankin (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
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Although I was aware of William Herschel I had not fully appreciated the role of his sister, Caroline, until I read Richard Holmes' marvellous account of science and discovery in `The Age of Wonder'. Michael Hoskin's thorough and lively account of the Herschel siblings builds nicely upon the content in Holmes' book (although you don't need to have read this to enjoy Hoskin's account). Michael Hoskins clearly knows his subject and writes with a prose style that is highly readable and which sustains your engagement with the `story' from start to finish. There are some wonderful details that really bring William and Caroline to life. The story of the Herschels is a compelling one and Michael Hoskins has succeeded in writing about the astronomer siblings in an equally compelling manner. Highly recommended; particularly for anyone interested in the evolution of astronomy, or science more generally, or in well written biography.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book about some amazing people and their incredible lives and works, 14 April 2012
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
Having been introduced to William & Caroline Herschel by Richard Holmes' excellent The Age of Wonder, I next read The Georgian Star, by Lemonick. This, the third book I've read on this fascinating pair of siblings, is by Michael Hoskin, considered by many (including the authors of the other two books) to be the worlds foremost authority on the Herschels.

Hoskin's love of his subject leaps from the pages, in a fantastically warm, detailed, erudite and yet charmingly familiar manner. The academic norm is to refer to your subject by surname as, say, Newton. Wryly noting that colleagues who've studied the latter often grow to loathe him, Hoskin merrily confesses that his subjects feel like friends, and he frequently refers to his chief subject simply and cordially as William, which is a nice touch.

He goes into a similar level of detail as other authors in many areas, for example the family history (all writers universally admire Isaac, the father who set his family on their upward trajectory), and William's musical life prior to turning a full-time astronomer (in his 40s!). He's more detailed than others about William's brother Alexander, and son John, which helps make the book a worthwhile addition to those interested in these fascinating and fundamentally important figures in the history of modern science and cosmology.

When one considers the impact of their work and the fascination of their story one wonders why, in comparison to Darwin say, there's so little literature about them (why does Carl Sagan devote so much time to Kepler and Huygens - both fascinating and important figures, undoubtedly - and say next to nothing about the Herschel's, in his otherwise superb Cosmos series?). They changed our sense of scale as well as our idea of our true place in the universe in an equally radical and fundamental way, unequivocally ending the millennia old view of 'fixed stars' and the unchanging clockwork heavens that even Newton still subscribed to.

As well as telling a fascinating story with clarity, erudition, breadth and charm, this book also (pardon the potential astronomy pun) enlarges the scope of Herschel studies, with the information about Alexander and John, and the best and biggest selection of illustrations (inc. sketches, the Herschel's own written records, other contemporary ephemera relevant to the story, and so on) of any book on the subject I've yet seen.

So, an excellent and very enjoyable book (very handsomely produced as well) on a fascinating subject - or subjects, I should say - who really deserve to be more widely celebrated.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and inspirational read, 10 Feb 2012
Mr. C. Hoskin (UK) - See all my reviews
I was unaware of the scale and implications of the work performed by the pair til I read this book. I was drawn in from start to finish in a detailed yet very entertaining account of the life of the incredibly successful duo, William and Caroline Herschel. The writing is excellent, sharp and witty, and there are revelations such as the discovery of infra-red light being made by William during his experiments. A very inspiring story of the super-human efforts of the pair, that showed levels of determination, diligence and meticulousness unheard of in present day. It's a fascinating glimpse into the whole culture and society of the day they lived in and had to cope with in order to do their work, with much involvement in royalty. I was so inspired by their story that I'm now determined to buy the biggest telescope I can afford!
Disclaimer: I am related to the author, which is why I first came into possession of the book, since I was unaware of Herschel in any detail til now. Though I mean every word, and have my sights on a 5" aperture Matsutkov-Cassegrain telescope (with GoTo mount, as I don't have the patience of the Herschels!).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 20 May 2011
This is written in Michael Hoskin's usual excellent style, once again giving us new insights into that wonderful partnership of Caroline and William Herschel
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