The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

More a series of biographies than a proper narrative history. Still well-written and interesting, though.

Holmes’ use of language and choice of examples illustrates the Romantic belief that science and poetry were not opposed, but complementary disciplines, both seeking to understand and explain the world around them.

Three things I learned:

  • Caroline Herschel, William Herschel’s sister, was a great astronomer in her own right, discovering numerous comets and nebulae, as well as compiling the most comprehensive star catalogues of the 19th century.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in 1816, can be considered the first science fiction novel, as it took curent theories of biology and chemistry and extrapolated them into the future, then constructed a narrative around the consequences.
  • William Herschel was originally an organist in Bath; astronomy was a hobby he indulged in on the side. It just so happened that his homemade telescopes were more powerful than anything any one else had constructed before (!)