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The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Great Discoveries) Hardcover – 10 Feb 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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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: 14.5 x 2 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,608,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


Lemonick paints a vibrant and revealing picture of these two scientists whose painstaking observation and cataloguing paved the way for modern astronomy. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

A former senior science writer at Time, Michael Lemonick is the author of several books, including Echo of the Big Bang. He teaches at Princeton, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins Universities, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
it was ok thanks
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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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An excellent researched book. Well written. Excellent.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.1 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars First-rate scientific biography 14 Jan. 2013
By Daniel Putman - Published on
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This is an extremely well-written and engaging biography of William and Caroline Herschel. In less than 170 pages of text Michael Lemonick manages to include all the relevant details about the lives of these two pioneers of astronomy. I especially enjoyed several features of the book. First, Lemonick relates discoveries of the Herschels to modern developments that built on those discoveries. For example, William's obsession with mapping the sky and Caroline's extensive revision of the star catalogue after his death are tied into the current sky surveys which have given us a map of our cosmos. This is not an ad hoc addition. The work of the Herschels laid the groundwork for current star surveys. Likewise, William's coining of the term "asteroid" and his work on the two largest, Ceres and Pallas, are tied into the modern understanding of the number and reason for the asteroid belt. Lemonick also links this to the question in Herschel's day of how to categorize Ceres and Pallas and how this relates to the problem of categorizing Pluto. Second, Lemonick is not afraid to discuss at some length the wrong ideas of Herschel, for example, William's odd idea that the sun is a large planet with a fiery surface and that the planet beneath is protected from the heat by a layer of dark clouds which we can sometimes see through holes we call sunspots. His motivation for this peculiar idea was theological in origin and it shows well the cultural context within which Herschel was working. Herschel was brilliant, innovative, and way ahead of his time in so many ways but some of his ideas show him to be very much a man of his time. Third, I really enjoyed Lemonick's book long description of the evolving relationship between William and Caroline and how Caroline, who, as Lemonick puts it, was destined to be a household drudge by her mother and kept from virtually all educational opportunities, became one of the foremost astronomers in the history of science. By using many excerpts from her diaries and talking about the long-range impact of her work, the book does justice to Caroline as an astronomer and as a person.

Lemonick is a gifted writer and the reader will find here one of the finest scientific biographies on the market. The Herschels went from being first rate musicians (William and his brothers were prodigies and Caroline became a beautiful singer by practicing with a gag in her mouth) to being masters of an emerging science. They deserve an excellent modern biography and they have it in this 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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Astronomy and its heroes 7 Oct. 2012
By Steve G - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book on many levels. Author Michael Lemonick crafted an interesting story from an important era in the history of astronomy. The science was plainly written and should be accessible to any reader. Lemonick also went into depth about the private lives of William and Caroline Herschel, without the book reading like a gossip column. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of science. It covered the Herschels in more depth that did Richard Holmes in The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science (Vintage)
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 16 Nov. 2014
By Lee - Published on
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Very informative. Thanks.
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.
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