Reviews elsewhere on the web:
The Independent
Literary Review
Richard D North

Richard Holmes

The Age of Wonder

We live in a scientific age, with new discoveries coming at a rapid rate. In The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Richard Holmes shows how similar it was two centuries ago when there were also rapid advances in science and exploration.

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 info
Hardcover 576 pages  
ISBN: 0375422226
Salesrank: 553686
Published: 2009 Pantheon
Amazon price $18.87
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Product Description
A riveting 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 on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’s original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.

Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners’ lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration extended to great writers and poets as well as scientists, all creators relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing and discovery.

Holmes’s extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experiments—both successes and failures—were born of singular and often lonely dedication, and how religious faith and scientific truth collide. He has written a book breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.