Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae is both the biography of an extraordinary human being and the story of the greatest quest in the history of astronomy since the Copernican revolution. The book is a revealing portrait of scientific genius, an incisive engaging history of ideas, and a shimmering evocation of what we see when gazing at the stars. Born in 1889 and reared in the village of Marshfield, Missouri, Edwin Powell Hubble-star athlete, Rhodes Scholar, military officer, and astronomer- became one of the towering figures in twentieth-century science. Hubble worked with the great 100-inch Hooker telescope at California's Mount Wilson Observatory and made a series of discoveries that revolutionized humanity's vision of the cosmos. In 1923 he was able to confirm the existence of other nebulae (now known to be galaxies) beyond our own Milky Way. By the end of the decade, Hubble had proven that the universe is expanding, thus laying the very cornerstone of the big bang theory of creation.
It was Hubble who developed the elegant scheme by which the galaxies are classified as ellipticals and spirals, and it was Hubble who first provided reliable evidence that the universe is homogeneous, the same in all directions as far as the telescope can see. An incurable Anglophile with a penchant for tweed jackets and English briars, Hubble, together with his brilliant and witty wife, Grace Burke, became a fixture in Hollywood society in the 1930s and 40s. They counted among their friends Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers, Anita Loos, Aldous and Maria Huxley, Walt Disney, Helen Hayes, and William Randolph Hearst. Albert Einstein, a frequent visitor to Southern California, called Hubble's work "beautiful" and modified his equations on relativity to account for the discovery that the cosmos is expanding.
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US Kirkus Review »
This biography of the astronomer for whom the space telescope is named offers a fascinating view of how the scientific elite lived in the period between the world wars. Born in Marshfield, Mo., in 1889, Hubble was an outstanding student and athlete at the University of Chicago and won a Rhodes scholarship. On his return home from Oxford, he made a perfunctory pass at the legal career his late father had urged upon him, but he soon committed himself to studying astronomy. His scientific career (briefly interrupted by WW I) went into full swing when he moved to Mt. Wilson observatory in California and was able to use the 100-inch telescope, then the finest in the world, to study the galaxies (which he insisted on calling "nebulae"). He quickly became recognized as the preeminent astronomer of his time. A dedicated Anglophile after his Oxford years, he seized every opportunity to take his wife, Grace, on European junkets, much to the annoyance of his colleagues at Mt. Wilson. An egotistical snob, according to science biographer Christianson (History/Appalachian State Univ.; Writing Lives is the Devil, 1993) the aristocratic-looking Hubble seems to have cut off relations with his family after his move to California, preferring to hobnob with the likes of Einstein, Chaplin, and Aldous Huxley. He feuded with rival astronomers and had no interest in administrative work. Yet his contributions to astronomy are without peer: He established not only that our galaxy is but one of innumerable similar star systems filling the universe in every observable direction, but that these galaxies are receding from one another at speeds proportional to their distances - the famous "red shift." Only Hubble's death in 1953 prevented his receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics - there being none in astronomy. A well-researched, well-informed, and revealing study of its complex, brilliant subject and his times, this is one of the most impressive scientific biographies of recent years. (Kirkus Reviews)
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