The Scientist Within

Scientific Biography and The Creative Moment

Lecture by Richard Holmes, Best-selling Author, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Pantheon Books, 2009)

Introduction by Anna Henchman, Assistant Professor, Boston University

Does biography—which is essentially a subjective, retrospective literary form—have anything useful to say about science, which appears to be an objective, impersonal body of progressive knowledge? In this illustrated lecture, Holmes looks at the largely forgotten roots of scientific biography in the 17th and 18th centuries; considers the gradual evolution of the modern idea of “the scientist” and “discovery” in the Romantic period; and makes some observations on the idea of “creativity” and the imaginative impact of scientific lives on popular culture.

Richard Holmes was born in London and educated at Churchill College, Cambridge. His award-winning books include Shelley: The Pursuit (E. P. Dutton, 1975), Coleridge: Early Visions (Viking, 1990), Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage (Pantheon Books, 1994), and Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804–1834 (Pantheon Books, 1999). He has published two studies of European biography, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (Viking, 1985) and Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer (Pantheon Books, 2000), and a number of more academic essays on the subject. Holmes’s group biography of scientists and poets, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Pantheon Books, 2009), was chosen as Time magazine’s number-one nonfiction title for 2009 and won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction, and the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative Communication Award. His new book, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, about 19th-century balloon flight, is forthcoming in 2013. Holmes, who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the British Academy, regularly writes for the New York Review of Books.

This event is free and open to the public.