Books  Physical Sciences  Cosmology & Astronomy 

Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics

Biography / Memoir

By: Mary Bruck

285 pages, 23 half-tones

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Mar 2008 | #174845 | ISBN-13: 9780521055796
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £27.99 $39/€32 approx

About this book

Born in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, Agnes Mary Clerke achieved fame as the author of A History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Through her quarter-century career, she became the leading commentator on astronomy and astrophysics in the English-speaking world.

The biography of Agnes Clerke describes the life and work of this extraordinary woman. It also chronicles the development of astronomy in the last decades of pre-Einstein science, and introduces many of the great figures in astronomy of that age including Huggins, Lockyer, Holden and Pickering; their achievements and their rivalries. The story follows her friendship with William and Margaret Huggins, and her prolific correspondence with eminent astronomers of the time. This biography will fascinate scientists, and anyone who admires intellectual achievement brought about through love of learning and sheer hard work.

'Mary Bruck's biography is a detailed and insightful look at a fascinating life ... Bruck has produced a brilliant biography. But its also a revealing investigation of the role of women in astronomy at the turn of the last century, and of the transition of astronomical practitioners from rich, privately funded amateurs to today's professional wage slave.' Carole Stott, New Scientist 'Mary Bruck has succeeded in painting an attractive portrait of a woman who was obviously not only highly intelligent but must also have been a pleasure to know ... Agnes Clerke was a significant figure and we should not have had to wait nearly a century after her death for an account of her life. Perhaps, however, Agnes' spirit thinks the wait worthwhile, since this biography is a model of what scientific biography should be.' Alan H. Batten, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 'Agnes Clerke was the most influential writer on astronomy in the English language at the end of the Victorian era ... Mary Bruck's book tells the story of this remarkable woman ... Bruck has written an excellent book. Her thorough research in numerous archives and in Clerke's publications is well documented in the notes, and numerous well-chosen photographs illustrate the text ... Bruck paints a fascinating picture of the rich fabric of British astronomy and astrophysics at the end of the nineteenth century. This is a highly readable, well-produced, attractive book.' Donald E. Osterbrock, Nature 'This book by Mary Bruck is the first full-length Agnes Clerke biography and gives an excellent account of her life and work ... Bruck has put a tremendous amount of work into this book and her material has been well chosen ... The style is clear and the extensive references will be of great value to scientific historians. Clerke deserves a good biography and Bruck has provided one.' Patrick Moore, Times Higher Education Supplement 'What makes this book so different from others about Clerke is that the story not only deals with her work, but also introduces many of the prominent astronomers of the age ... The author's grasp of the material is so thorough that one is almost tempted to believe that she must at times have been present in person - privy not only to the many achievements of her subjects, but also to their rivalries and feuds ... With voluminous notes and references, as well as many photographs of those whom the author describes, it is a pleasure to welcome this beautiful book, which will be enjoyed by astronomers and non-astronomers alike. Both sets of readers will enjoy a good story, superbly told.' Susan McKenna-Lawor, Physics World 'Mary Bruck describes Agnes Clerke's first and most important work, her Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century, as 'remarkable for its extraordinary thoroughness'. These words could equally well be applied to the present book, an account of Clerke's family background, life and work, based on an exhaustive examination of what must be all the known sources available. The result is impressive.' Mary R. S. Creese, Endeavour 'This is a well-crafted account of the life of an important character in the history of our science and is to be warmly welcomed.' Davids Stickland, The Observatory 'Bruck paints a broad and vivid background, outlining the careers and achievements, as well as some of the difficulties and setbacks, of many of the leading nineteenth-century astronomers.' Mary R. S. Creese, Endeavour 'Dr Bruck herself a highly competent astronomer, has brought Agnes Clerke to life in a fascinating book, indeed the two have a lot in common, even by birth. in a deceptively small work of 275 pages so much information is packed.' Astronomical Society of Edinburgh 'Mary Bruck's fascinating biography of this extraordinary Skibbereen woman will captivate you like no other story of achievement.' Southern Star 'This handsome little volume, with a generous sprinkling of pithy quotes from both published and unpublished sources and a good dose of history and astrophysics, is marvellously produced and very appealing.' NTM 'this monumental work will rank with Jankin's 1980 book on Hamilton. Would that we had access to more biographical treatments of our scientific luminaries in similar depth.' Roy Johnson, Books Ireland 'Mary Bruck describes Agnes Clerke's first and most important work, her Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century, as 'remarkable for its extraordinary thoroughness.' These words could equally well be applied to the present book, an account of Clerke's family background, life and work, based on an exhaustive examination of what must be all the known sources available. The result is impressive.' Mary R. S. Creese, Endeavour 'This book provides a thorough, authoritative, well-written and fascinating account, not only of Clerke herself, but also of the development of astrophysics during her lifetime, and her not insignificant role in it. I strongly recommend it to anyone with any interest in Irish astronomy, the role of women in astronomy, or the history of astronomy in general.' Stardust (Northern Ireland Amateurs Society) '... a detailed, scholarly, and thorough account of both the life and the work of relatively unknown Irish woman of science.' Choice 'Mary Bruck's work brings her subject very much to life ... a delight to read ... Dr Bruck has brought Agnes Clerke before us as a truly remarkable Victorian.' Astronomy & Geophysics 'Enthralled by Clerke's 'professional' progress. She drew together the threads of world-wide leading edge astronomical activity for her readers - to universal acclaim. I can give this biography no greater compliment than to reveal that I now cherish more my own copy of Clerke's History. A must have for owners of her work.' Steven Ringwood, Astronomy Now


Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. Family background in County Cork; 2. Ireland and Italy; 3. London, the literary scene; 4. The History of Astronomy; 5. A circle of astronomers; 6. A visit to South Africa; 7. The System of the Stars; 8. Social life in scientific circles; 9. Homer, the Herschels and a revised History; 10. The opinion moulder; 11. Popularisation, cryogenics and evolution; 12. Problems in Astrophysics; 13. Women in astronomy in Britain in Agnes Clerke's time; 14. Revised System of the Stars; 15. Cosmogonies, cosmology and Nature's spiritual clues; 16. Last days and retrospect; 17. Epilogue; Notes; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.

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Mary Bruck gained her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Edinburgh, where she went on to become a Senior Lecturer in astronomy. Her main research interest was in photographic stellar photometry and spectroscopy. Now retired, she has a special interest in nineteenth century British and Irish women in astronomy, about whom she has written numerous articles. In 2001, Dr Bruck was awarded the Lorimer Medal of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh.

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