Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Age of Wonder

Don't you love it when you come across a book that you wouldn't have thought you'd love, but that ends up capturing your imagination? Recently I found just such a book through one of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab . First, if you've never listened to this show, I highly recommend it. It's hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich and their website describes the show this way:

"Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we'll feed it with possibility."

My favorite part about the show is how excited and curious the hosts are and how fun and inspiring it is to listen along with every episode. They obviously love science and it's a joy to hear them investigate and laugh and discover. Plus the sound editing is great and the various staff members bring a lot to the table. day at work I was listening to one of their short episodes where they interviewed Richard Holmes, the author of The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. It was so fascinating, listening to the author talk about how he went from writing strictly about Romantic poets to writing about an entire period in the history of science and how it was linked with romanticism. He does this by taking a biographical approach, following the lives and achievements of prominent figures in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

From Joseph Banks and his voyage to Tahiti (and subsequent nurturing of young scientific talent in London) to William and Caroline Herschel's astronomical discoveries, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and its reflection of fears concerning the newly envisioned occupation of scientist, and Humphry Davy's bold achievements in the field of chemistry, Holmes demonstrates how romantic science re-envisioned the world and the universe, inspired by a sense of awe, creativity, and possibility. He also sheds light on their personal lives, their joys, hopes, achievements disappointments and flaws, making them seem all the more compelling and shedding light on the context in which they made their discoveries.

The best part of the book is that it reads like an adventure story with many characters all endeavoring within the same milieu. My personal favorites were the Herschel's, the German brother and sister immigrants (to Britain) who cast & polished their own large telescopes in their basement (can you imagine?!) and went on to map and chart nebulae, discover comets and planets, construct and operate a 40-foot telescope, and promote the concept of deep space. I very much appreciated that Holmes paid equal attention to Caroline and her journey from neglected child to William's assistant and eventually to an internationally recognized comet huntress in her own right.

Personally, I was never previously interested enough in science to seek out books about it in my spare time. But this book was fascinating and downright exciting. If you're looking for something interesting and well-written, I'd definitely give it a try.


Well, I'm off to Florida tomorrow to visit my sister for the weekend. I probably won't write again until after I get back on Sunday, but I'll try to take lots of pictures. I hope everyone else has a great weekend!

xx Kelley Anne xx

1 comment:

  1. Radiolab sounds really cool - I'm going to check it out. Thanks!


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