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Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age Johns Hopkins Paperback Ed Edition

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801869099
ISBN-10: 0801869099
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Editorial Reviews


How was it that a man who had no formal education after the age of sixteen could apply operational calculus to technological problems in a way that other eminent mathematical physicists had not? Why was a charged layer of the ionosphere named after him? The best way to gain an insight into the life and work of this eccentric genius will be to delve into this delightful book.

(International Journal of Electrical Engineering Educators)

A good book by a careful, historically minded engineer... A lively, informative narrative of Heaviside's life and work. Nahin has exhaustively resurveyed archives and contemporary sources and is very much at home in historical discussions of Victorian physics.


About the Author

Paul J. Nahin is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of Time Machines, An Imaginary Tale and The Science of Radio.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Johns Hopkins Paperback Ed edition (October 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801869099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801869099
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Nahin was born in California, and did all his schooling there (Brea-Olinda High 1958, Stanford BS 1962, Caltech MS 1963, and - as a Howard Hughes Staff Doctoral Fellow - UC/Irvine PhD 1972, with all degrees in electrical engineering). He worked as a digital logic designer and radar systems engineer in the Southern California aerospace industry until 1971, when he started his academic career. He has taught at Harvey Mudd College, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Universities of New Hampshire (where he is now emeritus professor of electrical engineering) and Virginia. In between and here-and-there he spent a post-doctoral year at the Naval Research Laboratory, and a summer and a year at the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses as a weapon systems analyst, all in Washington, DC. He has published a couple dozen short science fiction stories in ANALOG, OMNI, and TWILIGHT ZONE magazines, and has written 16 books on mathematics and physics, published by IEEE Press, Springer, and the university presses of Johns Hopkins and Princeton. His most recent book, INSIDE INTERESTING INTEGRALS, discussing numerous techniques for doing definite integrals (up through and including contour integration in the complex plane) that commonly occur in physics, engineering, and mathematics, was published by Springer in September 2014. His next book, IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE PHYSICS, on the application in everyday life situations of elementary mathematics (up to and including freshman calculus) and the fundamental physical laws, is under contract with Princeton University Press, is currently at the copyeditor, and will appear May 2016. Another book, TIME MACHINE TALES, an up-dating of the 2nd edition of TIME MACHINES (1999), is under contract at Springer (in the Fiction & Science series) and will appear in 2017. He has given invited talks on mathematics at Bowdoin College, the Claremont Graduate School, the University of Tennessee, and Caltech, has appeared on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" show (discussing time travel) as well as on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Front Porch" show (discussing imaginary numbers), and advised Boston's WGBH Public Television's "Nova" program on the script for their time travel episode. He gave the invited Sampson Lectures for 2011 in Mathematics at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine). When he isn't writing he is battling evil-doers on his PS4 and, now and then, he even wins ("Wolfenstein: The Old Blood" is my current time-waster).

FINALLY - numerous readers have written over the years asking about the solutions manual to my Springer book, THE SCIENCE OF RADIO. Springer has kindly made it available in pdf format (3 MB), and if you write to me I'll send you a copy.

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By weaponeer on November 4, 2010
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The back cover blurb of this book tells a lie: "This acclaimed biography is the only one devoted to Oliver Heaviside." Nahin himself mentions two others, by Bolotovsky and by Searle, and two more unpublished ones, by Gossick, and most significantly, by Henry J. Josephs, of whom more later.

Nahin is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire, and expresses opinions as facts with typical academic self-assurance. Tesla, for example, was "at best ... a seriously disturbed individual," who "neither used nor needed analytic reasoning." Alfred O'Rahilly's incisive examination of the fundamentals of electromagnetics is just a "polemic against Einstein and relativity theory." And so on.

However, Nahin has still written a very interesting, readable account of Heaviside's life and work. There are chapters on Heaviside's early life, his work in early telegraphy, his battles with William Preece of the GPO, his electrodynamics and operational calculus, Maxwell, quaternions, the age-of-the-earth controversy, his final years, and more. Nahin's writing style is good, with quite a few gossipy details; the book is nicely illustrated, and has been well proof-read (except that André-Marie Ampère is always shorn of all accents). It is thorough, informative, and gives useful mathematical details in end-of-chapter "Tech Notes."

Now to H. J. Josephs, who was a mathematical physicist with the Post Office research section. In this reviewer's opinion, Josephs has delved more deeply and with greater insight into Heaviside's work than anyone else.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jack D. Morris on November 26, 2010
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I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the sung and unsung heroes of science and engineering. However, appreciating Heaviside requires a fairly in-depth understanding of E&M (Electricity and Magnetism) theory. That's just the way it is. The more you delve into the subject, the greater will be your respect and amazement for the stupendous theoretical contributions this strange hermit accomplished.

From this book, as far as classical E&M goes, he was way way ahead of his time. This is clearly the case when you consider the list of acclaimed contemporary scientists (Lords Kelvin and Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson et. al.) who held Heaviside in such high esteem. Likewise, being far ahead of his time, brought on the criticism and hatred from those in power unable or unwilling to understand. Of course, Heaviside, being withdrawn and acidic toward his critics, added his own gasoline to fuel these fires of hatred and jealousy. That was his major fault and we can all learn a lesson from it.

I first heard the name Heaviside while taking Electrical Engineering courses as an undergraduate. There were brief mentions of the Heaviside Operational Calculus and some of his clever tricks. However, we learned the method of the Laplace transform and even the Heaviside expansions from Engineering Mathematics were taught in this "modern" context. Much later I took more advanced courses in E&M. I had purchased various supplimental text books on the subject and found that one mentioned that the so called four famous Maxwell equations were actually derived from Maxwell's Treatise by Heaviside (True, as affirmed by Nahin in his book). Again the name of Heaviside mysteriously reappears.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. R. A. Peek on September 13, 2008
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Oliver Heaviside is practically unknown today, unless you still call the ionosphere the Heaviside Layer, but far less worthy scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes. He has found an excellent biographer in Paul Nahin, who is completely at home with his material. It's a delight to see footnotes and technical notes that seriously enhance the value of the book. Thoroughly recommended to anyone with an interest in a man who helped to establish our electrical & electronic age.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lealand on May 14, 2007
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This book has a nice mix of scientific history and mathematical information. It's not just pages of equations, but they are there to help explain the concepts. Also the tech notes are great for those of us who like to see how it all works out. I would recommend this book to engineers, scientists, mathematicians, or just people who enjoy a little history of science and technology. Heaviside is quite an interesting person.
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Definitively professor Paul J. Nahin must be not just a great mind, but a great soul and great educator too. I just want to thank him for sharing with us this magnificent work.

This review of his book is written too, not for those "seeking a way to kill time", neither for those who faint at the sight of square root, and let alone of the square root of minus one.

The most impressive and amazing thing about the work of J.C.M and O. H. is that they the both developed the Electromagnetic theory in a time when the electron concept did not exist, or else, within a wrong framework.

They both

"strived, in fact, to achieve a physical theory without making assumptions about the underying details of the physics",

something that is seen quite often, these days, in some modern theoretical physicists, the so-called mainstream physics.

This work of professor Nahin is so full of hints why the electromagnetic theory "have resisted the errosion and corrosion of progress", and the first and most obvious one is that behind that theory lies the basis of physical reality, or as Einstein said once, understanding the electron is enough.
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