|Harper Collins Paperbacks|
the observer Sat 19 September 2009
Richard Holmes here blurs the line between science and the arts in the most appealing and accessible way. The result is an enthralling account of the scientific discoveries and innovations that inspired the poets of the Romantic age. Starting with botanist Joseph Banks, whose life becomes something of a connecting thread throughout the book, Holmes links the condensed biographies of a few key figures, expertly meshing the scientific into the greater social picture when describing such events as the sudden mania for everything balloon-related that followed the Montgolfiers' first flight. Rich with detail, the writing is consistently vivid and at times as gripping as a thriller.
the guardian Fri 18 September 2009
It's a myth that the Romantic poets were fundamentally anti-scientific; they were more usually inspired by the scientific discoveries of their day, argues Richard Holmes in this magnificent group biography. It makes no sense to talk of romantic subjectivity versus scientific objectivity in an age when scientists were poets, and poets were well-versed in science. Wordsworth might have accused scientists of murdering to dissect, but he also envisaged Newton as "a Mind for ever / Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone", thereby contributing to the romantic image of the scientific genius. Keats might have grumbled about Newton reducing the rainbow to a prism, but he also celebrated William Herschel's discovery of Uranus in "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer". An accomplished biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, Holmes is the perfect guide to the "second scientific revolution" (the phrase is Coleridge's) at the end of the 18th century, when artists and scientists were united by their capacity to wonder.