When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discoveryastronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophicalswiftly follow in Richard Holmess original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.
Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of dynamic science, of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration extended to great writers and poets as well as scientists, all creators relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing and discovery.
Holmess extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experimentsboth successes and failureswere born of singular and often lonely dedication, and how religious faith and scientific truth collide. He has written a book breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.
Joseph Banks in Paradise 1
On 13 April 1769, young Joseph Banks, official botanist to HM Bark Endeavour, first clapped eyes on the island of Tahiti, 17 degrees South, 149 degrees West. He had been told that this was the location of Paradise: a wonderful idea, although he did not quite believe it.
Banks was twenty-six years old, tall and well-built, with an appealing bramble of dark curls. By temperament he was cheerful, confident and adventurous: a true child of the Enlightenment. Yet he had thoughtful eyes and, at moments, a certain brooding intensity: a premonition of a quite different sensibility, the dreaming inwardness of Romanticism. He did not like to give way to it. So he kept good company with his shipmates, and had carefully maintained his physical fitness throughout the first eight months of the voyage. He regarded himself thank god as in as good mental and physical trim as a man could be. When occasionally depressed, he did ...
The Age of Wonder is stirring reading for anyone interested in the lives of extraordinary, world-altering people. Learning how and when great poets and great scientists met one another, read each other’s work, or absorbed each other’s speculations and discoveries makes reading The Age of Wonder an especially ecstatic adventure. From every angle, this is a wonderful book.
(Reviewed by Jo Perry).
Full Review (722 words).
Biographer, poet, editor and historian Richard Holmes was born in London and attended Cambridge. Hes the author of:
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