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Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel

Biography / Memoir

By: Michael Hoskin

272 pages, Col & b/w illus

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Feb 2011 | #189848 | ISBN-13: 9780691148335
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £24.95 $34/€28 approx

About this book

Discoverers of the Universe tells the gripping story of William Herschel, the brilliant, fiercely ambitious, emotionally complex musician and composer who became court astronomer to Britain's King George III, and of William's sister, Caroline, who assisted him in his observations of the night sky and became an accomplished astronomer in her own right. Together, they transformed our view of the universe from the unchanging, mechanical creation of Newton's clockmaker god to the ever-evolving, incredibly dynamic cosmos that it truly is.

William was in his forties when his amateur observations using a homemade telescope led to his discovery of Uranus, and an invitation to King George's court. He coined the term "asteroid," discovered infrared radiation, was the first to realize that our solar system is moving through space, discovered 2,500 nebulae that form the basis of the catalog astronomers use today, and was unrivalled as a telescope builder. Caroline shared William's passion for astronomy, recording his observations during night watches and organizing his papers for publication. She was the first salaried woman astronomer in history, a pioneer who herself discovered nine comets and became a role model for women in the sciences.

Written by the world's premier expert on the Herschels, Discoverers of the Universe traces William and Caroline's many extraordinary contributions to astronomy, shedding new light on their productive but complicated relationship, and setting their scientific achievements in the context of their personal struggles, larger-than-life ambitions, bitter disappointments, and astonishing triumphs.

The Herschels, claims Hoskin, were foremost in changing the view of the universe from a static, mechanical creation to that of a living, changing cosmos... Drawing from William's papers, as well as journals and autobiographies penned by Caroline, Hoskin relates the fascinating story of a man who pursued his passion and left a large legacy to science, and the sister who abandoned a singing career to familial obligations, which in time produced rewards for her as well. -- Publishers Weekly The fascinating story of how the Herschels ventured to Slough and beyond is told well in this book written for the general reader by Michael Hoskin. -- Peter Rodgers, Nature In this joint biography, written with the cooperation of the Herschel family, historian of astronomy Michael Hoskin portrays the siblings' shared passion for the night sky, and the triumphs and pitfalls of their work. Using an amateur telescope, the pair charted thousands of stars and nebulae in catalogues that are still used today. -- Nature [Hoskin brings] the Herschels to life against the background of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century society in England... This is an elegant and enjoyable book that will delight equally readers who have no background in astronomy and those who think they already know about the Herschels. -- John Gribbin, Literary Review This is very readable and deeply informed. -- Steven Carroll, The Age Brisk and engagingly written... [Hoskin is] such an experienced historian of astronomy that his account and evaluation of the Herschels' technical progress within that discipline is unrivalled. -- William Poole, Times Higher Education Fascinating... A very highly readable account of the Golden Age of British astronomy, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a look at just how those astronomers of yore operated. -- David Dickinson, Astroguyz An amazing book... Although everyone interested in astronomy should read this book, you will love it because it takes readers back in time to visit the Herschels and witness their interactions with people ranging from the king to commoners. -- Dr. Milton Friedman, Montgomery News All in all I found this a great read, and Michael Hoskin is to be congratulated for producing a volume that gives us far more than a mere scientific or technical account of the Herschels. This fascinating book deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in the history of astronomy. -- Wayne Orchiston, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage This is a charming book... It is also beautifully produced with quality illustrations throughout to complement the text. I could not recommend it more highly. Read it and you will never again be able to read or hear the name 'Herschel without recalling the vivid characters it depicts. -- Jacqueline Mitton, Journal of the British Astronomical Association Hoskin provides a comprehensive scientific and social biography of siblings William and Caroline Herschel, told with a liveliness that often reads like a novel... Amateur astronomers of today should find inspiration in this work. -- Choice


List of Illustrations vii Preface ix The Herschel Family xiii Prologue ? August 1772: The Partnership Convenes 1 Chapter 1: 1707-1773: A Musician's Odyssey 6 Chapter 2: 1773-1778: Vocations in Conflict 28 Chapter 3: 1779-1781: An Enthusiasm Shared 44 Chapter 4: 1781-1782: Royal Patronage 57 Chapter 5: 1782-1783: "Astronomer to his Majesty" 69 Chapter 6: 1783-1785: The Construction of the Heavens 82 Chapter 7: 1782-1790: "One of the Greatest Mechanics of his Day" 108 Chapter 8: 1786-1788: "Gold Can Glitter as Well as the Stars" 129 Chapter 9: 1788-1798: "Noble and Worthy Priestess of the New Heavens" 138 Chapter 10: 1788-1810: "The Most Celebrated of All the Astronomers of the Universe" 146 Chapter 11 ? 1792-1822: The Torch is Handed On 158 Chapter 12 ? 1822-1833: John's "Sacred Duty" 186 Chapter 13 ? 1833-1848: "The Completion of My Father's Work" 197 Abbreviations 209 Notes 211 Bibliographic essay 223 Further Reading 225 Index 229

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Michael Hoskin is fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, where he lectured in the history of astronomy from 1959 until his retirement in 1988, and founding editor of the "Journal for the History of Astronomy". His books include "The Herschel Partnership as Viewed by Caroline" and "The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy".

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