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The Electric Life of Michael Faraday Hardcover – March 7, 2006

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From Publishers Weekly

Nineteenth-century English scientist Faraday, who made the revolutionary discovery that electricity, magnetism and light are all related, personified the self-made man. Son of a blacksmith, Faraday (1791–1867) was apprenticed at an early age to a bookbinder, who encouraged him to pursue the interest in science that he'd gained from reading the books that crossed his workbench. By a great stroke of luck, he went to work for the eminent scientist Sir Humphry Davy. As physicist Hirshfeld (Parallax) relates, from that point on, Faraday proved unstoppable as he made important discoveries in every field he applied himself to. His breakthrough came when he discovered that he could induce an electric current by moving a magnet inside a coil of wire. This led to his development of the dynamo, precursor to the electric motor. Equally important, Faraday hypothesized that electromagnetism extended into space via lines of flux. Faraday's background in mathematics was weak, so he couldn't prove this, but a young scientist he befriended late in his career, James Clerk Maxwell, finally did. In an elegantly written biography, Hirshfeld, winner of a Templeton Foundation prize for an essay on Faraday, captures the scientist's rough-and-tumble times, and most readers will be able to follow his clear descriptions of Faraday's achievements. 18 b&w illus. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

This is the second recent biography of Michael Faraday (1791-1867), following the lengthier A Life of Discovery, by James Hamilton (2004). Shorter biographies are the rage these days, and Hirshfeld's efficiently explains Faraday's status as one of the most inspirational and significant figures of science. His up-by-the-bootstraps story tugs at the heartstrings, while his adherence to the experimental method engages the intellect. It is evident, too, that Hirshfeld, a physics professor and author of popular astronomy (Parallax, 2001), also delights in Faraday's effort to interest the public in science with the weekly demonstrations he gave for decades at London's Royal Institution. Best of all, Hirshfeld delivers concise verbal descriptions of the experiments that Faraday conducted on electricity, magnetism, and light, the body of which directly led to James Clerk Maxwell's mathematical theories unifying light and electromagnetism--and to the dynamo and radio. A vibrant portrayal that emphasizes Faraday's qualities of wonder, acuity, and diligence, which propelled him to greatness. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714701
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #683,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Hirshfeld is Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. He received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Princeton University in 1973 and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale in 1978. His widely praised book, "Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos," published in 2002 by Henry Holt & Co., chronicles the human stories involved in the centuries-long quest to measure the first distance to a star. His second book, "The Electric Life of Michael Faraday," published in 2006 by Walker & Co., describes the life and work of the 19th century scientist who developed the electric motor, electric generator, and many fundamental ideas about electricity, magnetism, and light. "Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes," published by Walker & Co. in 2009, was released in paperback in September 2010. Prof. Hirshfeld's "Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual," a collection of mathematical exercises for college astronomy courses, was published by Jones & Bartlett Learning in 2009. Recipient of second prize in the Templeton Foundation's international Power of Purpose essay competition and also a Griffith Observatory/Hughes Aircraft Co. national science writing award, Prof. Hirshfeld has lectured around the country about scientific history and discovery.

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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David Finley on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
You wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for Michael Faraday. In this excellent book, the man whose name many of us remember from our physics or electronics texts and who made possible the Internet by which these words come to you, is brought to life as a real person with a truly engaging life story.

Hirschfeld's book is a highly-readable biography of the man who started the world on the path to radio, electronics, and computers. Wireless pioneers Marconi, Fessenden, deForest and others built their technology on the scientific foundation laid by Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz, both of whom credited Faraday's work as the basis of their own.

Faraday's contributions to electrical science were numerous and far-reaching. Among others, he discovered electrical induction (making the world's first transformer), made the first electric motor, made the first electric generator. and was the first to show that magnetic effects could change the polarization of light (what now is called Faraday rotation). Faraday's later speculations about electric fields were, according to Maxwell, what spurred the latter to begin the work that led to Maxwell's famous equations describing electromagnetic radiation. When Hertz first produced radio waves in his laboratory, he also acknowledged that he was following on the work of not only Maxwell but of Faraday. In telling the story of these discoveries by Faraday and his successors, Hirshfeld, a physics professor, is careful to put their work in the context of our modern understanding.

Faraday entered the world of science through the back door. The son of a blacksmith, Faraday became an apprentice bookbinder. Inspired by some of the scientific texts he was binding, he began experimenting in his spare time.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The Electric Life of Michael Faraday" by Alan Hirshfeld

[Hirshfeld is also author of "Parallax: the Race to Measure the Cosmos"]

From the dust jacket of this book, a photograph of Michael Faraday's looks out toward us. His face is the very depiction of human kindness and his eyes show forth a tenderness that is almost maternal. It is a compelling face, and in a social setting, one would feel drawn to stand toe to toe with such a man.

Hirshfeld has authored an endearing view of 19th Century English life through Faraday's eyes, a life characterized by the snobbery of class distinctions, combined with the imminent discoveries of science in many fields.

In scarcely a century and a half, mankind went from the Voltaic Cell to Nuclear Power, and the discoveries of both and everything in between are linked, and the scientific work of Faraday is the key to all. It is Faraday's pursuit of the idea of magnetic "fields" that showed the way. James Clerk Maxwell employed his mathematical talents to put Faraday's ideas into the form of equations. Albert Einstein would later use these equations to arrive at E=MC (squared), opening the door to the Nuclear Age.

Until I read this biography, I was not clear on who or when or how our knowledge and identification of Elements came to be. It was the use of the Voltaic Cell, a battery, whose electro-chemical process separated any compound into its basic elements that served as the tool of discovery. Faraday was in hot pursuit of the science of electricity and magnetism, which led him to approach Humphry Davy of the Royal Institute concerning employment. Davy was at the forefront of the use of the Voltaic Cell for discovery.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steve G on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Michael Faraday, whose major discoveries made possible electrical generators and transformers, was an amazing man. Although he had no formal scientific training, he became one of the all-time great experimentalists. He also had the foresight to know that future generations might prove his scientific work incorrect. Although this did not really happen, it demonstrated his great belief in the scientific method. He was the ultimate experimental physicist and he truly cared for the accuracy of data. Although he was highly religious, he was able to separate his scientific self from his religious self and did not allow his beliefs to taint his scientific conclusions.

Author Alan Hirshfeld explains the resistance Faraday faced to his ideas because he had no formal education and was unable to couch his discoveries in mathematical terms. This was later done by James Clerk Maxwell ("The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell" by Basil Mahon). Hirshfeld has an easy-to-read style and the story moves along at a good clip. The only real short-coming of the book was the lack of information on Faraday's personal life. His marriage was mentioned only in passing and I can't help but feel that there is a lot more to know about Faraday. Although some of the physics was a little technical and hard to understand, the story is not really about that; it's about how a brilliant man with no education rose to the top of British science and the challenges he faced in getting there.

I read the books on Faraday and Clerk Maxwell one after the other and this gave a great overview of 19th century British physics. I recommend that anyone interested in the history of science read both of these books and in historical order (Faraday first, then Clerk Maxwell).
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