From Publishers Weekly
When an art historian writes a biography of the leading scientific figure of 19th-century England, the focus is likely to be broader than science. Hamilton (Turner: A Life
), an art curator at the University of Birmingham in England, does use a wide-angle lens in this vivid look at the man who helped establish the laws of electromagnetism. He argues persuasively that the cultural gap between art and science—so clear today—had not yet formed during Faraday's lifetime (1791–1867), and that Faraday played a significant role in bringing intellectuals of all persuasions together. Hamilton mines numerous other biographies, the voluminous research notes left by Faraday, as well as ample correspondence by and to the scientist to dramatize Faraday's amazing rise from a poorly educated bookbinder's apprentice to a world-renowned scientist and science educator (he was a hugely popular lecturer). Hamilton explores the role of Faraday's religious faith (he belonged to the small, rigid Sandemanian sect of Christianity) and his friendships with artists of the time. What one won't gain here is a deep understanding of Faraday's scientific discoveries. But scientifically knowledgeable readers will gain an appreciation of what broader intellectual life was like during this critical period. 8 pages of photos, one map not seen by PW
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*Starred Review* When his experiments went explosively awry, Michael Faraday repeatedly found his eyes filled with glass and his own blood. But a perceptive biographer allows readers to see much more than shattered laboratory equipment through eyes eventually famous for penetrating the mysteries of electricity. Indeed, Hamilton invites readers to see those contours of Faraday's life often neglected by biographers narrowly focused on his electrical research. We see, for instance, how, when shielded from public scrutiny, the mature genius but still straitlaced man allowed himself remarkable intimacy in correspondence with a free-spirited female mathematician. Even in turning to Faraday's acclaimed science, Hamilton highlights the nonscientific, exploring the piquant personalities of the mentors and collaborators who helped Faraday on his way and tracing the remarkably artistic metaphors Faraday employed in explaining his breakthroughs. And alongside a lucid scientific account of how Faraday's daring mind united wires and magnets in the world's first generator, Hamilton offers an acute psychological analysis of the peculiar fissures dividing that mind. Readers thus join Hamilton in pondering the curious schizophrenia that allowed Faraday to crusade for educational reform with poise but still left him insecure and self-abasing when addressing his own Protestant community on religious issues. A complete portrait, restoring full humanity to a scientific icon. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved