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The Age of Wonder - Richard Holmes

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The Age of Wonder tells the story of the Romantic era of science, which Richard Holmes defines as beginning with Joseph Banks' voyage aboard the Endeavour in 1769 and lasting until Charles Darwin's voyage on the Beagle in 1831. Romanticism is conventionally seen in opposition to the rational view of the world espoused by science, but Holmes describes how many leading scientists of the age shared the same spirit.

Each chapter concentrates on a different person or group, starting off with Banks' work as a botanist and hands-on anthropologist among the indigenous people of Tahiti. He was the talk of the town on his return and quickly ascended to the position of President of the Royal Society, where he had a talent for encouraging other intrepid schemers. The following chapters tell the story of William and Caroline Herschel, the brother-and-sister astronomy team, the craze for ballooning in France and Britain (which Banks was distinctly more sceptical about), and the ill-fate…