Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, May 1, 2012 - Science - 336 pages
3 Reviews

The author of the highly acclaimed Founding Gardeners now gives us an enlightening chronicle of the first truly international scientific endeavor—the eighteenth-century quest to observe the transit of Venus and measure the solar system.
   On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the earth and the sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in remote corners of the world, only to have their efforts thwarted by unpredictable weather and warring armies. Fortunately, transits of Venus occur in pairs: eight years later, the scientists would have another opportunity to succeed.
   Chasing Venus brings to life the personalities of the eighteenth-century astronomers who embarked upon this complex and essential scientific venture, painting a vivid portrait of the collaborations, the rivalries, and the volatile international politics that hindered them at every turn. In the end, what they accomplished would change our conception of the universe and would forever alter the nature of scientific research.


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Pretty good, but has a couple flaws
A interesting and informative read that can be, at times, a bit tedious. Full of colorful detail, its an excellent education on how people had to travel in the
1760s and also how the scientific organizations helped and competed with each other. It's also a great story about life -- sacrifice, perseverance, and dedication. The author is thorough, but can't stop herself from criticizing religion at every turn and from fawning over the ideals of the enlightened scientist. Her points about their personal dedication and international cooperation are valid though. Another criticism I have of this book is the total lack of explanation behind the computations for the mapmonde and the paralax, but I guess I'll have to go somewhere else for that. In the end, I don't regret having invested the time to read it. 

Review: Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens

User Review  - Kimberly - Goodreads

One of the most delightful historical accounts I have read. The author describes herself a historical designer. In this desription she dose not disappoint. The book recounts the 18th century race, by ... Read full review


Britain Enters the Race
Day of Transit 6 June 1761
Russia Enters the Race III
The Most Daring Voyage of All
Scandinavia or the Land of the Midnight Sun
A New Dawn
List of Observers 1761

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About the author (2012)

ANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 and winner of the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award, and of Founding Gardeners; she is the coauthor (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. She has written for The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, and she reviews for several newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Times Literary Supplement.

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