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: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375422225
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Pantheon Books - July 14th, 2009

The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science Cover Image
$18.95
ISBN: 9781400031870
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Vintage - March 2nd, 2010

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 Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9780307454751
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Vintage - March 9th, 2010

After decades of animal research and social theories predicated on notions of competition and “survival of the fittest,” the primatologist Frans de Waal is part of a growing tide of biologists turning attention to the aspects of behavior in humans and animals that strengthen bonds between individuals. It’s now The Age Of Empathy (Harmony Books, $25.99) and time to study not aggression, but social mechanisms like the herd instinct and conflict resolution that keep it in check. In looking beyond the selfish gene to the equally ancient instinct for altruism, de Waal presents dozens of case studies and anecdotes of chimps, apes, elephants, ravens, dolphins, and people who have demonstrated trust in others or helped each other regardless of whether they themselves stood to benefit. De Waal strongly believes in community and his observations demonstrate that the successful evolution of any species depends to a high degree on cooperation.

The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780307407771
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Broadway Books - September 7th, 2010

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