After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. - Alexis de Toqueville
In my first chemistry class, at the age of fourteen, I successfully precipitated a single crystal of mineral salts. This elementary experiment was done by heating a solution of copper sulphate (I think) over a Bunsen burner, and leaving it to cool overnight. The next morning there it lay at the bottom of my carefully labelled test tube: a single beautiful crystal, the size of a flattened Fox's Glacier Mint, a miniature ziggurat with a faint blue opalescence, propped up against the inside of the glass (too big to lie flat), monumental and mysterious to my eyes. No one else's test tube held anything but a few feeble grains. I was triumphant, my scientific future assured.
But it turned out that the chemistry master did not believe me. The crystal was too big to be true. He said (not at all unkindly) that I had obviously faked it, and slipped a piece of coloured glass into the test tube instead. It was quite a good joke. I implored him, "Oh, test it, sir; just test it!" But he refused, and moved on to other matters. In that moment of helpless disappointment I think I first glimpsed exactly what real science should be. To add to it, years later I learned the motto of the Royal Society: Nullius in Verba - "Nothing upon Another's Word." I have never forgotten this incident, and have often related it to scientific friends. They nod sympathetically, though they tend to add that I did not (as a matter of chemical fact) precipitate a crystal at all - what I did was to seed one, a rather different process. No doubt this is so. But the eventual consequence, after many years of cooling, has certainly been to precipitate this book.
This is from the Prologue to Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. The book is about the second age of science. The first was in the 17th century. This is the 18th century. Holmes shows us how science and poetry converged in their sense of wonder at the world they were each discovering, in one way or another.
Holmes' skillful writing in the prologue is representative of that throughout the book and explains why it was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2009.
Sally Beauman's novel, Rebecca's Tale, picks up twenty years after the end of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca when Colonel Julyan receives a suspicious package. He and his daughter, Ellie, and an American scholar attempt to discover what Rebecca was really like. Of the many post-Rebecca novels this may be the best - best written and best plotted.