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

Susan Eilenberg writes:

They had heard that we were great Philosophers, and expected much from us, one of the first questions that they askd was, when it would thunder.

Joseph Banks, The ‘Endeavour’ Journal

Richard Holmes describes The Age of Wonder as a ‘relay race of scientific stories’ about the explosion of exploration and scientific achievement in England between two celebrated voyages, Captain James Cook’s first circumnavigation of the world in the Endeavour in the late 1760s and Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos in the 1830s. William and Caroline Herschel’s advances in astronomy and Humphry Davy’s in chemistry dominate both Holmes’s history and the period itself, but Holmes is interested too in John Herschel, William’s son, who nearly became a lawyer instead of the founder of the Astronomical Society; in Nevil Maskelyne, the astronomer royal at the Greenwich Observatory; in Mungo Park, the African explorer and the first European to reach the Niger; in William Lawrence, the surgeon who took on the Vitalists; in Vincent Lunardi, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, John Jeffries, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and James Sadler, the balloonists; in King George III, who loved telescopes and music and balloons; in Thomas Beddoes, the doctor, and his Pneumatic Institute, and his wife, Anna; in Michael Faraday, the physicist; in Charles Babbage, the mathematician and inventor of the difference engine; in Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Byron; in Mary Shelley, Frankenstein’s monster’s creator; in everyone’s connections and hobbies and miseries and follies; and in Joseph Banks, who kept a friendly eye on as many of them as he could during his long tenure as president of the Royal Society.

(LRB 7 January 2010)

Other Titles of Interest