Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

There was a time when scientists were poets and poets were scientists. There was a time when anybody with sufficient brains and willpower could go down into his or her basement and come up with a major contribution to what we know about the world. That time was the Romantic era, at the turn of the 19th century — a time when you could walk down the street and find an oboe teacher named William Herschel stargazing through a telescope that he built himself, a telescope that outperformed that of the astronomer royal. Herschel, a pure amateur, went on to discover Uranus. Richard Holmes — who is almost unfairly gifted both as a writer of living, luminous prose and as a tireless researcher — braids Herschel's story together with a dozen others to create the most joyful, exciting book of the year.