The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science - Richard Holmes

The Romantic period wasn’t only for literature—it caught up scientists and explorers as well (many of whom were also writers). Together, the groundbreaking work of men like Mungo Park, Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy, and the sibling astronomers, William and Caroline Herschel, made the late 18th and early 19th century “the second scientific revolution.” In his Age Of Wonder (Pantheon, $40), Richard Holmes, biographer of Coleridge and Shelley, brings this era vividly to life. Encompassing global exploration, botany, geography, geology, chemistry, and astronomy, it led to inventions like the hot air balloon, the dynamo, the miners’ safety lamp, and the smallpox vaccine. Scores of comets and meteors were tracked, and Uranus was discovered. Holmes clearly explains the relevant scientific principles, but it is his details of the actual experience of carrying out forays into the unknown that sets this history apart. He describes, for instance, just how cold and dark a winter night was when spent in a top-heavy telescope tower, buffeted by the wind. Or what Humphrey Davy hallucinated when he overdosed himself in a laughing gas experiment.

Combining adventure, exploration, and biography, the multi-award-winning Age Of Wonder (Pantheon, $17.95) satisfies the needs for excitement, suspense, and plain-old good story-telling. Richard Holmes opens the treasure trove of knowledge and ambition that was Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, taking to the open seas with Captain Cook, experiencing the sensuous exotica of Tahiti with Joseph Banks and his crew, and surveying the night sky over England with William and Caroline Herschel. Then there’s Humphrey Davy and his experiments with laughing gas, unpredictable hot-air balloon flights, Mary Shelley’s examination of humanity’s Promethean aspirations, and the growth of the Royal Society. Holmes has a quick wit and an eye for the telling quirk, making his narrative as entertaining as it is informative.

The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science By Richard Holmes Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400031870
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Vintage - March 2nd, 2010

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obession - Andrea Wulf

Britain is known for its avid gardeners, but what first stimulated this popularity came largely from elsewhere. In The Brother Gardeners (Knopf, $35) Andrea Wulf traces the chain of adventures, discoveries, and friendships that brought about a revolution in botany in the 18th century. When the period began, gardens were formal, geometric constructions enjoyed by the aristocracy and based on French models. By 1760, gardens were everywhere, and even amateurs cultivated their own plots. Wulf focuses on the nearly 40-year trade in plants between the Pennsylvania farmer, John Bartram, and Peter Collinson, the London merchant eager to have specimens of every tree, shrub, flower, and weed he could get from the colonies. Soon English nurseries were supplying European buyers with North American species, while the archetypal English landscaper, Capability Brown, designed gardens full of exotic magnolias and tulip poplars. British gardens continued to reflect the spread of the British Empire, incorporating plants brought back from voyages to Tahiti, the Antipodes, and China. Meanwhile, the introduction of West Indian cotton seeds to Georgia in 1732 set the course for future events.

The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession By Andrea Wulf Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307454751
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 9th, 2010

Zeitoun - Dave Eggers

His wife and their children evacuated New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina swept the Gulf Coast, but Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born contractor, stayed behind to look after his house and those he was working on. When the storm had passed and floods inundated his city, Zeitoun believed he was meant to help as many people as he could.  Eventually, though, he was arrested on an unspecified charge and taken to a makeshift jail where his pleas for understanding and justice were met with indifference and mistrust. Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun (McSweeney’s, $24) is a gripping piece of narrative non-fiction, recounting just one personal story in a disaster that affected millions of people.  Zeitoun’s story of altruism countered by prejudice and violence, though, is one all too representative of our recent history.

Zeitoun By Dave Eggers Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307387943
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Vintage - June 15th, 2010