The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes. History. Pantheon Books. Hardcover. ISBN: 0375422226. 576 pps.
We are once again on the brink of such an age, when science and art will come together in new and powerful ways. For this we could have no better model than the lives of William and Caroline Herschel and Humphry Davy, whose dedication and scientific inventiveness were combined with a deep sense of wonder and poetry in the universe.
I vaguely remember Bertrand Russel knocking such concepts out of the proverbial park in his Religion and Science, but alas, it seems we humans truly desire to marry science and the metaphysical.
The reality though, is that much of our scientific imagination was born of the Romantic movement. Harold Bloom may stew in his gnostic paradigms but the literary truth is that science fiction, and its conceptual hypothesizing have not rooting in old testament lore.
Such a discussion is specifically why this book is high on my to-read list and one of the more interesting topics for the season. We tend to want to borrow science to justify desirable metaphysical concepts.
So you can obviously see why I'd be interested in a history of the Romantics view on science.
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. History. Metropolitan Books. 204 pps. ISBN: 0805082360.
This is actually the book at the top of my "unread" list from 2009. The concept is simple and fascinating. Henry Ford, in order to control his own rubber distribution and supply, built a rubber plantation in the Amazon River basin. The town's name was literally Fordlandia.
Ford didn't merely seek to maintain a fiscal advantage. No, indeed Henry Ford sought to build the ultimate American company town. Ford was responsible for the U.S.'s hard-charging movement into modernity, nationalism and a white supremacist to boot. Naturally in his Fordlandia he would try to create a utopia.
I find the whole concept fascinating. Ford honestly tried to build a perfect American town and a rubber manufacturing assembly line in the middle of the Amazon.
Nature, it would seem, had other things in store for Henry.
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and The Crusade For America by Douglas Brinkley. Harper. History. 960 pps. ISBN: 0060565284.
Brinkley is one of the rare nonfiction writers that can delve into the driest stretch of history and weave a interesting tale. As I began reading The Wilderness Warrior the thing that struck me first and foremost is how important a moment in history the book captures and how boring it might have been to read about.
"Might have been" is the operable phrase.
The story of Teddy Roosevelt's landmark legislation protecting wildlife and the creation of a vast park system is one that begins in his early childhood. The bookish Roosevelt gravitated to the early stages of ecology, becoming a lifelong ornithologist and developing a healthy love of the out-of-doors. Writers like Emerson and John Muir inspired in Roosevelt a supreme sense of the importance of our wild lands, both as a ultimate place of communion and the defining feature of American greatness.
It is also an insight into the scientific life of our 26th President. In some ways, Teddy was the last of the great visionaries, a sort of throwback to our founding fathers. The importance of science and natural understanding belied more than a passing curiosity for Roosevelt. Instead he felt it a necessary component for adulthood and something more than merely useful to the President. In this sense Brinkley's book serves as reminder that our highest office should truly be inhabited by someone of more than average intellectual vigor.
Despite its ponderous size and someone dry subject matter, Brinkley's history is yet a page turner and one that I think is important to dwell upon as environmentalism continues to be cast in a weak light by business friendly conservatism.
Simply put: You will be amazed at how simply, with a scratch of a pen and a waive of the hand, sweeping change was achieved by our own bull moose. You won't feel great about our partisan mess we have today.