In what is maybe a corollary for the scientific time period in question, The Age of Wonder started out riveting, and ended a little sluggishly. The Age of Wonder began in youthful exuberance, mellowed to dogged determination with an eye to the future, and ends with the deaths of some of the lions of science and the squabbles of the young bucks, who without their strong leaders, bicker about the future of science, and their scientific organization: the Royal Society.
Image: Engraving by John Cochran (1821-1865) of a portrait of Michael Faraday in his late thirties, painted by Henry Pickersgill (1782-1875)
So I chose Michael Faraday as the image for this third and final entry about The Age of Wonder, but not because he is the focus of the end of the book--he showed up a number of times during the second half, but only around the periphery--I chose Faraday instead because he represents the future of science as The Age of Wonder draws to a close. Faraday is still young(ish) at the end of Richard Holmes's tour through Romantic Science in England, and represents the hope Holmes wants us to see in science. he's also not one of the squabblers
As an aside, Holmes treats Faraday with such a delicate touch, dropping just enough about him to peak the reader's interest, and then leaving us unfulfilled, that it makes a reader wonder when the Michael Faraday book will be published. Hmm...
The overall arc of this book reminds me a little of the month of March (In like a lion...) Holmes points out that this age has a beginning and an end, and this is simply the end. It doesn't just fizzle of course. Science marches on to where we are today, but the end of this era is marked with a kind of watering down of the exuberance and newness of discovery with which it opened. Is that real, or is it a function of the way Holmes has framed his story? I have no idea.
In the end, I've come away knowing a lot more about the era, and surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. and how quickly I read it... you know, for me.
Read this book. And take notes.