Cover: Percival Lowell in HARDCOVER

Percival Lowell

The Culture and Science of a Boston Brahmin

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$92.00 • £80.95 • €83.95

ISBN 9780674002913

Publication Date: 02/15/2001


352 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

6 halftones


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In this biography David Strauss depicts a highly complex figure… Strauss’s analysis of the internal and external factors at play in Lowell’s astronomical career is illuminating. By approaching Lowell as a figure in American cultural history, rather than just a participant in the history of science, Strauss has enriched our understanding of both fields.—Marc Rothenberg, American Scientist

A good biography keeps two elements in delicate balance: what they did and why they did it. David Strauss…has got it exactly right in Percival Lowell… Strauss’s gripping and erudite biography is a marvellous portrait of this American aristocrat and maverick of science, and his conflicts and achievements. They really don’t make astronomers like that anymore.—David Hughes, New Scientist

In the history of planetary astronomy, Lowell will be always remembered for the cranky conviction that Mars had canals and, hence, intelligent life. Rather than view Lowell through the prism of his projects, Strauss portrays him as a sort of freelance repudiator, though still a psychological captive, of late-nineteenth-century Boston’s wealthy circles… The biography opens a portal into Lowell’s mind.—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

This well-tempered biography of the noted astronomer places Percival Lowell’s scientific and cultural pursuits in the context of his rebellion against the parochialism and increasing irrelevancy of the Boston Brahmin worldview… Strung like a harp, aloof, and confident to the point of arrogance…Lowell harvested little but ridicule from his crude hierarchy of races, his assertion that there was life on Mars, and his quest for Planet X… It would be easy to simply deride this blustering figure, but Strauss takes a harder, more fulfilling approach, appreciating Lowell’s ability to stir major scientific and cultural controversy while clarifying just why he was so often wrong.Kirkus Reviews

David Strauss’s biography gives us the entire Percival Lowell. We learn of his mistresses, his Boston clubs, his visits to the exotic, romantic Orient and his attempt to make his mark as an adventure-travel author, and finally of his astronomy and the resultant feuds with the professional astronomical establishment. In Strauss’s hands, Percival Lowell is a compelling figure, whose story provides a rich insight into the nature of Boston society and the Boston Brahmins at a time when New England culture was becoming overshadowed by the New York aristocracy. I’m convinced that this is an important book.—Owen Gingerich, Harvard University

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