By Andrea Wulf
Knopf, $26.95, 304 pages
“Never before had scientists and thinkers banded together on such a global scale-not even war, national interest or adverse conditions could stop them.”
Maybe as important as the political history that was taking place at the time was the effort chronicled here to determine the size of the solar system. Appropriate for such a communal task was determining the distance between the earth and sun by observing and measuring the transit of Venus. On June 6th 1761 over 250 scientists from all over the world watched and took measurements as the planet Venus crossed in front of the path of the sun. From their observations, some even came to believe that Venus had an atmosphere and contained life. Many of these scientists traveled to exotic locations to take measurements, but due to weather the original plan went amiss. Not to be discouraged, there was a second chance on June 3rd 1769, the last time for such an opportunity during these scientists’ lives. This act of global cooperation changed the world.
Chasing Venus is a engaging story of the international players involved, including Sir Edmond Halley who alerted the world about this opportunity. The book succeeds as a story with all sorts of sub stories about the failures and successes of those involved and would make a great dramatic presentation. The book does provide a needed list of the key players, and an impressive bibliography.
Reviewed by Ryder Miller