Chasing Venus by Andrea Wulf


8 Critic Reviews

Like a nonfiction National Treasure with myriads of Nicholas Cages darting around—in a good way. Enlightening Enlightenment fare.


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.


About Andrea Wulf

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Andrea Wulf trained as a design historian at London's 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 the coauthor (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden. She has written for The Sunday Times (London), The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times, and appears regularly on BBC television and radio. She lives in London.
Published May 1, 2012 by Vintage. 336 pages
Genres: Other, History, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Chasing Venus
All: 8 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 2


Apr 01 2012

Like a nonfiction National Treasure with myriads of Nicholas Cages darting around—in a good way. Enlightening Enlightenment fare.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Joann Gutin on May 18 2012

Wulf gives it her best shot, but the sprawling narrative defeats her in the end...It’s an impossible structure.

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Washington Times

Below average
Reviewed by Claire Hopely on May 25 2012

Less successful is the use of many 18th-century maps, figures and charts. Most are too small to be useful. The images of scientific instruments and locations are often uninteresting...

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The Telegraph

Reviewed by Tom Payne on Jun 18 2012

The result is a human story, and it’s worth reading as a rallying call to humanity’s quest to explore the universe simply for the sake of it.

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Huffington Post

Reviewed by Ann Levin on May 08 2012

Wulf's marvelous eye for detail and talent for simplifying complex science make the book, timed for release a month before the last transit of this century, well worth reading before June.

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Reviewed by Matthew Price on May 06 2012

Wulf writes with enthusiasm...Better yet, she explains complex scientific phenomena in clear, layperson’s terms: Here is a book both astrophysicists and poets can understand.

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Mail Online

Reviewed by John Harding on May 25 2012

Andrea Wulf's story of the chase is an enthralling, nail-biting thriller and will undoubtedly prove one of the non-fiction books of the year.

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Science News

Reviewed by Alexandra Witze on Jun 02 2012

Wulf’s stories come together in a portrait of the first truly global scientific endeavor.

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