In The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes tells the colorful and utterly absorbing history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.
When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery – astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical – swiftly follow in Richard Holmes's thrilling evocation of the second scientific revolution. Through the lives of William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who forever changed the public conception of the solar system; of Humphry Davy, whose near-suicidal gas experiments revolutionized chemistry; and of the great Romantic writers, from Mary Shelley to Coleridge and Keats, who were inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of their day, Holmes brings to life the era in which we first realized both the awe-inspiring and the frightening possibilities of science-an era whose consequences are with us still.
Please note: the difference between the £14.99 and £12.99 paperback version is that the former is a trade paperback, whereas the latter is a mass-market paperback (also see this entry on Wikipedia for the difference between the two).
List of illustrations
1 Joseph Banks in Paradise
2 Herschel on the Moon
3 Balloonists in Heaven
4 Herschel Among the Stars
5 Mungo Park in Africa
6 Davy on the Gas
7 Dr Frankenstein and the Soul
8 Davy and the Lamp
9 Sorcerer and Apprentice
10 Young Scientists
Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia, and editor of the Harper Perennial series Classic Biographies launched in 2004. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His books have won the Somerset Maugham Prize, the Whitbread Book of the Year, the James Tait Black Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. His most recent book, The Age of Wonder, won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.
'Exuberant [...] Holmes suffuses his book with the joy, hope and wonder of the revolutionary era. Reading it is like a holiday in a sunny landscape, full of fascinating bypaths that lead to unexpected vistas [...] it succeeds inspiringly''
– John Carey, Sunday Times
"The Age of Wonder gives us [...] a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigorating, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful"
– Jenny Uglow, Guardian
"This is a book to linger over, to savour the tantalising details of the minor figures [...] The Age of Wonder allows readers to recapture the combined thrill of emerging scientific order and imaginative creativity"
– Lisa Jardine, Financial Times
"I am a Richard Holmes addict. He is an incomparable biographer, but in The Age of Wonder, he rises to new heights and becomes the biographer not of a single figure, but of an entire unique period, when artist and scientist could share common aims and ambitions and a common language – and together create a "romantic", humanist science. We are once again on the brink of such an age, when science and art will come together in new and powerful ways. For this we could have no better model than the lives of William and Caroline Herschel and Humphry Davy, whose dedication and scientific inventiveness were combined with a deep sense of wonder and poetry in the universe. Only Holmes, who is so deeply versed in the people and culture of eighteenth-century science, could tell their story with such verve and resonance for our own time."
– Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia, Awakenings, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat