Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Age of Wonder

When I heard Richard Holmes on WNYC's RadioLab, I knew we'd be good friends. I mean, at least he'd let me sit next to him--on the bus. That is, we'd be good friends before I forced him into small talk and subsequently sprayed him with spit as an effuse of science vomited out of my mouth.

Holmes was featured on an episode of RadioLab talking about his admiration of scientists and an interaction he had with a German mathematician, who successfully explained group theory (created by French mathematician Evariste Galois), despite the obvious language barrier. The mathematician gestured and swung his arms around all the dishware on the table, hugging them to his placemat. "Scientists love to discuss their science. They're very often very good at describing it," Holmes professed. "I love you science people. Nothing will stop you. You're jolly well gonna explain it." Inside my thoracic cavity, myocardial cells burst and contracted with pride. Yeah, I am jolly well gonna explain it! AND, I'm gonna make myself look goofy, trip over things, and completely cover my arms and fingers in chalk as I do it. I might even teach you something.

With an introduction that provoked so much buzz, I knew I had to read Holmes's book, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. The book features the lives of three scientists who essentially created modern science. It's intimidating with nearly 500 pages and includes an index, bibliography, references, a cast list, and (thankfully) pictures.

Breezing through the first 90 pages, the writing is divine and the stories compelling. Holmes drew a picture of Joseph Banks in Tahiti and the juxtaposition of beauty and horror involved when two cultures interact. Although a society of open sexuality and beauty, Tahiti would soon be a paradise lost (I learned that at the National Gallery of Art exhibit of the artist Gauguin). On the other side, Banks collected thousands of specimens and paved the way for mutually beneficial contact. I believe my coworkers and fellow train commuters have seen me scoff and smile into the pages of The Age of Wonder. I am thoroughly looking forward to the next 400.


  1. Well? It's been over 24 hours. What the fuck happened in the next 400 pages? This is bullshit...

    To sum up... You breezed "through the first 90 pages" and am "looking forward to the next 400." But, here's the thing, it's a 500 page book. You know this. So... WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO THE MISSING 10 PAGES? I am going to kill myself...

  2. Wow. Wow. Calm down. I said "nearly 500" pages. Pfft. I can do math but you can't read.