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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens
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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  191 ratings  ·  46 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
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jen
Yet again, I turn to my first love--astronomy. And when it's married with history...swoon.

I love astronomical history. It's just fun. And this book possibly earned an extra star simply by being about something ridiculously cool.

Points for when I explained the concept to Gwen she was horribly upset that she didn't get to see it when it happened in 2012.

Basically, the book tells the story of all the astronomers that went roving around the world to measure the transit of Venus across the face of t
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Shane Evans
A few years ago I read a book about the universe where the authors showed themselves watching the transit of venus through some fairly simple telescopes. They mentioned that the event was fairly rare, only twice per century. I didn't realize and they didn't explain what the big deal was all about. It turns out that for astronomers the Transit of Venus is a really big historical deal. About 300 years ago Edmund Halley (yes, the comet guy) realized that by measuring the time it took Venus to pass ...more
Kimberly Kieffer
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 the scientific societies of the most powerful nations, to observe the transit of Venus between the earth and the sun, allowing them to calculate the dimension of the solar system. This endeavor would change the frontier of science forever. The story spans more than 10 years and illuminates what an i ...more
Trish
I didn't give this book enough time, thus only 3 stars. It is detailed...very...and told in an engaging way. Can't believe the scientists in this...that they figured out as much as they did wit the tools they had and then proceeded to the farthest points of the earth to prove themselves right. I've read The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Wulf, and the woman can write. Give this one a go if you are interested in measuring the heavens.
Charly
Oct 30, 2014 Charly rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone. Especially science and history buffs
This was an interesting but not overly engrossing chronicle of international efforts to observe and and record the two transits of the sun by the planet Venus, twice in the decade of the 1760s. The basis of the work is that the learned societies of the world agreed that observations needed to be made from various locations throughout the world. thus the birth of international scientific research. In fact there were international and individual conflicts that made the work interesting. The plan w ...more
David
Chasing Venus is an interesting look at the expeditions to observe the transits of Venus (across the sun when viewed from Earth) of 1761 and 1769. In 1691, Edmond Halley had predicted that accurate measurements of these astronomical events from distant places on Earth could be used to measure the physical size of the solar system. ("It's a parallax, you dig?") This is the story on those who followed through on Halley's suggestion. Until this time, the relative distances of the planets to the sun ...more
Katie
Wulf tells the fascinating story of the race to measure the distance between the Earth and the sun in the mid 1700s. The story begins with Halley's 1716 call to astronomers to use the two transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Venus transits (comes between the Sun and the Earth) twice in eight years and then does not do so again for over a century. Halley knew he would not be alive to see the transit in 1761 but wanted the scientific community ...more
Dave Brown
Jun 07, 2014 Dave Brown rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dave by: Richard Groom, Andrew McCarter
History is so much better understood from the multiple perspectives and adventures of individual participants as is made possible by excellent researcher and story teller, Andrea Wulf. A special treat is learning of the ties among historical figures and events that we knew only separately. This tale intertwines Edmund Halley, Catherine the Great, Mason & Dixon, Captain Cook, and Ben Franklin -- in a collaborative global pursuit!

Without the modern communications and travel we take for granted
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Jenny
Andrea Wulf's comprehensive account of the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769 is detailed and engaging. Her writing style is very easy to read, which is a great asset when writing about a topic that could be yawn-producing for the general public. However, Ms. Wulf communicates what she saw in the journals and first-hand accounts of the transit astronomers: drama, adventure, danger, and the triumph of Enlightenment ideals over the political struggles of the day.

I really like the way the informati
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rmn
A breezy read about a bunch of astronomers in the 1700s who dropped everything to travel all over the world to track the flight of Venus across the sun (which happened only twice in the century, so viewing it had to be from precise locations at precise times) in order to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun to help with navigational maps.

The key takeaway from this book is that traveling in the 1700s really really sucked. And not like, "oh I have to wait 30 minutes in airport securit
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itpdx
This is a very interesting book about the 18th century expeditions to measure the transit of Venus in order to determine the distance of the Sun from Earth. The transits happened in 1761 and 1769. Astronomers traveled throughout the world to time the transits and determine the latitude of their locations so the distance to the sun could be calculated. Wulf does an excellent job of picking interesting stories and details of various expeditions and avoids what could have been a very dry and confus ...more
Erica
This book delivered just what I needed. I wanted a book to get me out of my own head and body for a while: to take me on a tour of the universe, and maybe some scientific exploration of old.

Wulf delivers not only an Enlightenment-age opening quest for reason and measurement, but fascinating details as to the geopolitical tensions at the time. Learned so much about British, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, and French international interworkings within the larger goal of needing lots of measurements, f
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Bryce Holt
An entertaining book to listen to, and a real testament to the will of those charting the Heavens back in the 1760's. Still, it's about what these men (mostly men, at least...) suffered to chart the Transit of Venus, and the extreme difficulties of the task. What I loved was that it was truly the first global expedition in the name of science. You see men who lived out their entire life's dream...and other men who were crushed by it simply because it happened to be overcast that day. There are m ...more
Kelly Korby
Very interesting book about a topic I never had heard of before.Several nations sending out different astronomers to view the transit of Venus simultaneously in the 18th century. The individual stories and the group struggles are enlightening as to the amount of adversity people will go through for scientific research and in some cases national and personal glory.
Mark
Aug 26, 2012 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like to read the backstory to history.
Fifteen years before the Declaration of Independence, the planet Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun, just as it did this past June. The transit of Venus is rare; the transit actually occurs in pairs, eight years apart from each other; and more than 100 years between pairs. If you are around in 2117 you can observe the start of the next transit.

Scientists knew in 1761 that they could determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun by recording key points in the transit of Venus from
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Ruth
It's absolutely amazing what people will endure in the name of knowledge.

This is the story of the international attempts to measure the transit of Venus (as a larger effort to calculate the size of the universe) in the 1760s. And it is truly amazing what astronomers went through to get their data -- wars, tedious hours of calibrations and generalized boredom waiting for something to happen (I did so love the job advertisements for astronomer positions), pilfering natives (quite humorous), ice st
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David West
Fascinating story of the two transits of Venus in the 1700's, that enabled science to measure within 1-2% the size of the solar system; more accurately the distance from the earth to the sun, also known as the "astronomical unit" or "AU".
Richard
I saw this book just as the second transit of Vensus was about to occur in June of this year... A well written and research book, Chasing Vensus, is an enjoyable historical account of scientists travelling (and actually cooperating with each other) around the globe in the 18th century in order to observe and measure the transit of Vensus as it moved in front of the Sun. This once in a century event, scientist hoped, can provide data that will allow them to measure the size of the solar system. I ...more
Douglas Dalrymple
A breezy, fast-paced narrative history of the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus and the international cast of characters involved in compiling observations and triangulating the distance of the earth from the sun. This was probably the biggest scientific project of the mid-1700s and the first of really global scale. Wulf structures her history well. Her writing is (as with Brother Gardeners) acceptable, but nothing very special. This book would make a fine high-school science text. Personally, I r ...more
Marshall
Great story about the first big international science collaboration. Ever wonder how we know how big our solar system is? Ever wonder who the Mason Dixon line is named after? This book answers both those questions.
ulli_z
This may be the story of the first world-wide scientific collaboration in history, but I have been drawn into it almost as if it were an adventure novel.
Tara
Some parts were boring, but I thought the topic overall was interesting. I had never heard about this before.
Alasdair Craig
I've long thought that the history of transits of Venus would make for a good book, and here it is! The transits are frequently mentioned in historical books related to surveying, navigation, mapping, etc. Wulf's Chasing Venus is wonderfully readable. I was disappointed that it only covered the 1761 and 1769 transits and none of the subsequent three prior to publication date, notwithstanding these were the seminal ones. It must be said that of the 304 pages, close to 100 of them belong to the bi ...more
Megan
listened. great narrator. more history than science.
Thomas Isern
Interesting subject, competently treated, but not compelling. The general thesis is that the observation of the transit of Venus in the mid-18th century marked a commencement of international collaboration in science. I just didn't find this proven out in the book; it seems to me the efforts of scientists were rather atomized, and sometimes competitive. Which leaves the book in search of a point to make. The descriptive aspect, then, and the personality sketches are pretty good, but Wulf does no ...more
Ian
A very enjoyable travelogue-like read on the 1761 and 1769 attempts to measure the solar system by way of the transit of Venus across the sun. The book focuses on several individuals who worked on those efforts to obtain measurements of the transit times of Venus and helps to place them in their geographical and historical context. Those of you looking for more science however may wish to stay away, as it's less focused on that and more focused on the personalities involved in the effort.
Nicole
I thought Wulf did a good job balancing the main events of the story - the two transits of Venus across the Sun in the 1760s - and the background information of the social and political conditions of the world at that time and the personal lives of the astronomers. I never felt like the story was weighed down by too many digressions, a problem in many books of this kind.
Daniel R.
An interesting historical account of two attempts to determine the size of the universe by measuring the transit of Venus across the sun in 1761 and 1769. It reads like a curated synopsis of diaries from those involved in the many expeditions to remote parts of the world in order to record the needed observations. A quick and enjoyable read.
Linda
Got this book for my birthday and it turned out to be really fascinating! The book reveals a side of the 18th century expeditions, which I previously did not know of. The book combines my interest in history and astronomy. I have now ordered Wulf's "The Brother Gardeners" and am looking forward to reading it too.
Colleen
wish they had half stars. I enjoyed this a lot, surprisingly so, since I only have a mild interest in astronomy. It has some tales of adventure- though if you are only going to read one book about a scientific expedition in the 1700's going awry- I reccomend The Mapmaker's Wife.
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Andrea Wulf is a biographer. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, published in April 2008. It was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and received a CBHL Annual Literature Award in 2010. She was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now resides in Britain.
More about Andrea Wulf...
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and Three Hundred Years of English History The Invention of Nature

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