Sunday, December 4, 2011

age of wonder ii

I could almost wait until I'm done for this one, but this book is so jam-packed with great stuff. I may have mentioned before how much the style of this book reminds me of John Adams: its a great mixture of history, biography, and in this case science, to tell a really compelling story.

Image: Joseph Banks, lately back from his South Seas travels.

I've included this image of Joseph Banks not only because he is the subject of the first chapter, but because he is leading figure in the storyline; a kind of common thread that runs through the chapters, linking together the cast of characters. What makes Banks so compelling is his undying enthusiasm for science and discovery. He is always pushing forward, striving to make science more expansive, more relevant, and better understood.

An interesting fashion of the time I really had no idea about was how interested in science some of the famous writers of the day were. Poetry and writing were obviously very big during this era, and many of the scientists Richard Holmes writes about, were amateur poets as well, and would often include poetry in their scientific writings, often to help illustrate a point or explain complex scientific ideas in more layman-like terms. But the famous poets and writers who fraternized with the scientific community and used what they learned by reading, attending lectures, and their discussions over dinners, was really surprising to me.

We've gone from botany, anthropology, astronomy, and ballooning, to chemistry and electricity, to Shelley's writing of Frankenstein, and there is still a big chunk left to go!

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