Reviews for The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

by Richard Holmes

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

As a researcher of British science during the Romantic period of English literature, Holmes suitably emphasizes the individual facing nature, so characteristic of the Romantic sensibility. Alighting on astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) and chemist Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), both of whom were artistic (music and poetry, respectively), Holmes connects them via botanist Joseph Banks. In a precursor to a modern pattern, Banks moved from his youthful success as a naturalist on James Cook's voyages into administration president of the Royal Society and promoted both Herschel and Davy. They came to Banks' notice seemingly from nowhere, and their determination to discover is well told in Holmes' biographical narratives. Elevated to societal notice, Herschel and especially Davy excited popular interest in ultimate questions their scientific findings seemed to open up, questions whose ripples into the literature of Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley Holmes elaborates. Readers interested in any of these figures, or in the lives of astronomer Caroline Herschel and explorer Mungo Park, have in Holmes a fine guide to the arts and sciences, Romantic style.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

While Romanticism in Great Britain is known mostly as an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement, rapid and revolutionary scientific discoveries were an underlying catalyst to the era's vaunted sense of "wonder." It was also a period when remarkable individuals working alone could make major contributions to knowledge. Historian and biographer Holmes (Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage) conveys the history of Romantic-era science through vivid biographies of a few such individuals. Notable among them are Joseph Banks, a botanist whose experiences in Tahiti were life-changing; William Herschel, the eccentric astronomer who (aided invaluably by his devoted sister, Caroline) discovered the planet Uranus; and Humphrey Davy, an intrepid chemist who conducted gas inhalation experiments on himself. These and others are depicted against the cultural tapestry of an age of idealism, which was both fueled and threatened by the advances of science. The subject makes this book most relevant for readers of general science and history of science, but its engaging narratives of the period could appeal to a broader readership. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/09.]-Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.