The Age of Wonder
The book starts with Joseph Banks voyage to Tahiti, and continues with Herschel's astronomical observations, including the discovery of Uranus. There are chapters on the first flights using balloons, on Mungo Park's exploration of Africa and on Humphrey Davy's discovery of laughing gas. The book is mostly biographical in nature, describing the lives of Banks, Herschel and Davy and showing how each played a part in generating the enthusiasm of the era for scientific advances.
This era was also that of the Romantic movement in the arts, and this is sometimes seen to be in opposition to the science of the day. This book shows what nonsense that is - the poets of the day were eager to find out about the latest advances in science, and the scientists would often go in for writing poetry.
Its a long book but it has a lively style - Holmes keeps the reader's interest throughout. I would tip it as a possible winner of the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books