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Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics [Kindle Edition]

Nancy Forbes , Basil Mahon
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The story of two brilliant nineteenth-century scientists who discovered the electromagnetic field, laying the groundwork for the amazing technological and theoretical breakthroughs of the twentieth century

Two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time were Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879). This is the story of how these two men - separated in age by forty years - discovered the existence of the electromagnetic field and devised a radically new theory which overturned the strictly mechanical view of the world that had prevailed since Newton's time.

The authors, veteran science writers with special expertise in physics and engineering, have created a lively narrative that interweaves rich biographical detail from each man's life with clear explanations of their scientific accomplishments. Faraday was an autodidact, who overcame class prejudice and a lack of mathematical training to become renowned for his acute powers of experimental observation, technological skills, and prodigious scientific imagination. James Clerk Maxwell was highly regarded as one of the most brilliant mathematical physicists of the age. He made an enormous number of advances in his own right. But when he translated Faraday's ideas into mathematical language, thus creating field theory, this unified framework of electricity, magnetism and light became the basis for much of later, 20th-century physics.

Faraday's and Maxwell's collaborative efforts gave rise to many of the technological innovations we take for granted today - from electric power generation to television, and much more. Told with panache, warmth, and clarity, this captivating story of their greatest work - in which each played an equal part - and their inspiring lives will bring new appreciation to these giants of science.

Editorial Reviews


"It's just the best book of its kind I have ever read, and I just hugely enjoyed it. Couldn't put it down. [Their discovery] was a fabulous human achievement."
Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, on CNBC's "Squawk Box"

“Compelling. …A lively account of the men and their times and a brilliant exposition of the scientific circumstances and significance of their work.”
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“The life and science of these two giants of nineteenth-century physics is beautifully documented and narrated in this riveting book.”
Eric D’Hoker, Distinguished Professor of Physics, UCLA; past president, Aspen Center for Physics

“Perhaps the names of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell aren’t as well known as Newton or Einstein, but they should be. The book traces their amazing collaboration.... But as equally fascinating as the tale of the discovery is that of the men behind it.... A fascinating true tale of the lives of two essential men of physics!” —AstroGuyz
“Blends science history and lively biography. …Accessible writing and a feel for character make this an interesting look at two scientists whose work defined an era and set the course for modern physics.”
Publishers Weekly

“Fans of biographies, as well as anyone interested in science and technology…will enjoy reading about these ‘two modest and genial men whose combined endeavors changed the world.’”
Library Journal

About the Author

Nancy Forbes is an experienced science writer with over twenty-five publications in the area of science and technology including Imitation of Life:  How Biology Is Inspiring Computing. She has also served as a contributing editor for The Industrial Physicist of the American Institute of Physics, and IEEE's Computing in Science and Engineering. Currently, she works for the US Department of Defense.

Basil Mahon is the author of The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell and Oliver Heaviside: Maverick Mastermind of Electricity, among other publications. With degrees in engineering and statistics, Mahon was formerly an officer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and until his retirement worked for the British Government Statistical Service.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Combining two biographies, those of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, is a good device for telling the story of an era in science. The subjects' working lives span most of the 19th century. Though they came from different backgrounds, the two had quite a bit in common. They were incredibly hard-working. The authors go out of their way to tell how genuinely kind they were. They had a true knack for making friends and avoiding long-lasting enmities. The third virtue was of course incredible intelligence. But it seems hardly likely that Englishman of the 19th century alone her were more gifted than other populations and times. Something about that epoch allowed genius to flourish, to reveal itself fully. That epoch is the subject of this rather remarkable book.

Faraday was born as of a poor second generation blacksmith from the North Country. He had the good fortune to arrive in London at a time when the city was intellectually very alive. He could bounce between low-paying jobs giving people a chance to notice and take advantage of his talent. One of the most fortunate postings was as a book binder. The work was not mentally demanding, but it put young Faraday in contact with books. He loved to read, and quickly became quite well informed. It also put him in such with the customers for the books, some of whom took note of the young man's alertness and talents. It was not too long before he became an apprentice to the famous scientist Humphry Davy, who brought him along rather quickly

Among Faraday's attributes was being meticulous, faulting himself deeply when he failed to put out work of the quality he expected of himself. He was kind and generous, and extremely apologetic when he accidentally gave offense, as he did one a couple of occasions.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I can't find the proper words to describe the emotions that were felt while reading the book. As an electrical engineer, I was familiar with the concepts behind the story. But learning how it was discovered, shows how great these men were. Maybe for the general reader, the book will not trigger these emotions. I always remember the joke among our classmates while we were studying Maxwell's theory: "And God said... Maxwell's equations... and there was light". I even have a t-shirt with that joke! It summarizes the beauty of these discoveries. The book made me want to travel in time to see first hand how these discoveries were made!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the very best of scientific biographies April 6, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The authors succeed at using the biographical details to describe the scientists manner of thinking, and in doing so convey perfectly the concepts that we know. A masterpiece on the initial development of electromagnetism!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field is a readable and engaging account of the two pioneers of the subject and how they developed as individuals and developed their respective theories. Electromagnetics and the field theory that came with it is one of the most important development in physics and allowed us to move from the theory of classical physics to what is today modern physics. Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon give the reader an account of the evolution of thinking on the subject by writing the overlapping biographies of Faraday and Maxwell. It is engaging, readable and gives the reader a sense of the subject by discussing the physical results that both characters and in particular Faraday personally discovered.

In reading the book one gets a sense of the character of each and where there strengths and weaknesses lied. Faraday, born in 1791 was an incredible experimental physicist. He had the fortune early in his career to work with Davy who was a skilled experimenter as well. One gets a sense of the totally open nature of the subject during that era and how it was wide open to be explored. Faradays growing stature and influence is documented and the reader is familiarized with the deep insight Faraday had about discussing the phenomenon he was observing via a field theory rather than the action at a distance models that continental europe was focused on. The historical statements that are documented in the book give a sense of how visionary Faraday was. Despite his remarkable qualities as an experimental scientist he was not mathematically trained and the formalizing of the theory into something along the lines of newtons theory of classical mechanics was lacking. Maxwell, the Scottish prodigy, was to come along and bridge the gap.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read May 1, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book is excellent. The writing is clear and thorough and covers a lot of background and side issues that are relevant to the narrative. I especially enjoyed the development of a broad picture of each of the scientists and their backgrounds. Many scientists other than Faraday and Maxwell who were involved in work on electricity and magnetism and the electromagnetic field are covered in detail. I especially enjoyed the book as an explanation of Faraday and Maxwell as a bridge between Newton and Einstein. The writers did a pretty good job of explaining the mental mechanical model/concept that Maxwell used as a starting point for his theory with its cells containing little rotating wheels intermeshed with one another. Their explanation of the vector analysis of the electromagnetic field is a bit turgid, and i had to revisit the concept of divergence and curl in one of my textbooks. Perhaps there is no easy way to cover this part of the understanding of Maxwell's equations.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars READ THIS BOOK
If you have a background in Electronics Engineering, this should be required reading. If you have any interest in Electricity, Magnetism, Electromagnetism and wave field theory,... Read more
Published 6 days ago by KDG
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Great Book
This biography of Faraday and Maxwell coupled with the march of scientific insight into "electricity and magnetism" over a hundred years is spellbinding and enlightening. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Alf Howard
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a perfect combination of history and science
This book is a perfect combination of history and science. I had studied physics in college and knew Maxwell's equations, but I had no idea how he found them. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Stephen Mooney
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked it -- A good review of theory and an interesting character...
I found it to be a good review of electromagnetic theory. It was interesting to see how it all came about. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Joe Clark
4.0 out of 5 stars Left me wanting more.
Good book. I learned a lot about the two men and the development of electricity. My only critique is that it made me want to know more about the science of their work. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Troy Torrison
5.0 out of 5 stars The superb research and narrative of the author makes it easy to...
A "must read" for any one with a serious interest in science in general and field theory in particular. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Don Groce
5.0 out of 5 stars Newton's "absurdity" solved by Faraday's genius
Prior to the revolutionary work of Michael Faraday, physical forces were thought to act instantaneously on distant bodies, leaping across space without any need for mediation. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Simon Manley
5.0 out of 5 stars This book does an excellent job describing the transitions in thought...
While Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity is often cited as the key scientific transition point from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century it was Faraday and... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Thomas Enzor
5.0 out of 5 stars good, lively read that nicely connects the lives and ...
Quick, good, lively read that nicely connects the lives and work of both scientists. For me, it was helpful to see Maxwell's ideas placed in his contemporaneous scientific... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Jacob N.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A good read although I would have enjoyed it more if there were some equations given.
Published 25 days ago by Carole McQuarrie
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