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The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell Paperback – October 15, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470861711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470861714
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is a wonderful, short biography that gives a vivid account of James Clerk Maxwell's life and work." (Materials Today, June 2004)

"...an absorbing account of Maxwell's life and work" (Sunday Telegraph Review, 19th September 2004)

"...provides the reader with the opportunity to understand Maxwell's contributions to modern science and technology." (The Mathematical Gazette, March 2005)

"...a fascinating book about an inspiring man..." (Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, Vol.36, No.3, March 2005)

From the Inside Flap

James Clerk Maxwell (1831- 1879) changed our perception of reality and laid the foundations for many of the scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century. An unassuming and modest man, who simply wanted to understand how the world around him worked, he made fundamental contributions to every aspect of physical science. By discovering the nature of electromagnetic waves, he made possible the development of our great communications networks: television, radio, radar and the mobile telephone. He took the first colour photograph and introduced the system of thought experiments, later used by Einstein. His influence across all areas of physical science has been enormous. Often his ideas were ahead of his time and we had to wait many years before others confirmed his theories.

Leading scientists have always recognised Maxwell as a giant figure and he holds a unique position among them, inspiring both wonder and affection. In life, he was a blend of opposites - a serious man who saw fun everywhere, a hopeless teacher who inspired students, a shy man who was the hub of any gathering where he felt at ease.


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Customer Reviews

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Read this book - there's lots more.
Daniel E. Shapiro
Basil Mahon has done a great job of telling Maxwell life and presenting his contributions to science in a way that a lay person can understand.
Jose Ernesto Passos
This books shows how Maxwell derived his equations which one can understand.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Joshua L. Soldati on March 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
It is amazing that such a pivotal figure in physics remains relatively unknown to the public at large. I even asked a British friend of mine -- who actually went to Cambridge -- if he knew who James Clerk Maxwell was. He hadn't the foggiest.

So it's a shame that this narrow biography (barely 190 pages of actual content -- excluding end-notes, etc.) does not deliver a more compelling picture of both the man and the scientist.

A good biographer must do more than collect a series of chronological facts and array them in a sensible order; he must know how to tell a story. A science biographer has an even more daunting task -- he must tell the story of his subject while at the same time unraveling the wonder of scientific discovery. Mahon fails at both of these.

Mahon's style is factual and competent, but he fails to convey any essence of the man himself. Who was James Clerk Maxwell? I know where he lived, where he taught, and what he did, but I have no greater insight whatsoever into what drove the man. What were his hopes, fears, ambitions?

While it is possible that there was not enough historical source material to paint this picture, I highly doubt it. A prolific letter writer (by Mahon's own account), I would have appreciated far more quotes from Maxwell's own writings (both private and published). Anything -- realy -- to give greater insight into the man.

Pehraps equally disappointing is the limited play that Mahon gives Maxwell's science. While he does provide a cursory view of some of Maxwell's greatest achievements, I believe he does not go deep enough.
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59 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on July 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
+++++

Who wrote these poetic lines?

"Trust me spring is very near,
All the buds are swelling;
All the glory of the year
In those buds is dwelling."

The obvious answer is some famous poet. Right? Wrong! These are the lines in a poem written by a forgotten icon in science named James Clerk Maxwell (1831 to 1879). Learning that this great scientist was also a poet is just one of the facts you'll find in this extremely well organized, well-written, easy-to-read book authored by former engineer Basil Mahon.

Even before plunging into the main narrative, I was impressed with the material beforehand.

Take the table of contents. At a glance, I can tell you what happened anytime in Maxwell's life. For example, what happened between 1856 and 1860. I just have to glance at the table of contents. For chapter 6, it has the title "Saturn and Statistics: Aberdeen 1856-1860." (Saturn is the sixth planet in our solar system.)

There is also a "chronology" that lists the "principle events in Maxwell's life." For instance, what significant event occurred in 1858? Answer at a glance: Maxwell was awarded the Adams' Prize for his essay "On the Stability of the Motion of Saturn's Rings."

As well, there is a "cast of characters." That is, a summary outline of "Maxwell's relations and close friends" found throughout the book. For example, who was William Thompson (later Baron Kelvin)? Answer at a glance: He was a friend (and mentor of the early stages of Maxwell's career) and Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University.

In his main narrative, Mahon tells us everything about Maxwell beginning with his early years and ending with his early death.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By laser_mechanic on June 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Maxwell was a man for all times; unassuming till the end, but always striving to research something, to help others, to understand nature and technology. There is no telling what other gems he might have uncovered if he had not died relatively young.

The book does not mention Oliver Heaviside and other "maxwellians" who further interpreted and cleaned up his equations (from the nightmare quarternion to the practical vector spaces), but it is a tribute to his genius nonetheless. I enjoyed every page.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John Dean on March 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder what the rings of Saturn were made of and how they are stable? Maxwell made his prediction in 1859, (for added emphasis 1859!!!!) and was completely right! The Man Who Changed Everything is an excellent book if you are interested. It details the life of James Clerk Maxwell, perhaps one of the most important scientists of the 19th century, yet almost completely unknown. Most importantly Maxwell unified the theories of electricity and magnetism; he also advanced Kinetic gas theory, took the first color photograph, developed ways to analyze stress in a structure, and even laid the foundations of cybernetics. The book's style is easy to read but in depth both in detail and Maxwell's theories. I would highly recommend this book to someone with an interest in physics or anyone willing to learn about one of the greatest minds in science.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jose Ernesto Passos on April 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I started reading this book, I have seen something similar to the history of one of the greatest mathematicians, Euler.
Euler and Maxwell were probably similar in several ways, they were true genius but still kept in contact with normal people and enjoyed life. Their fame is not proportional to their contributions, Maxwell and Euler are in the same category as men like Einstein, Newton, Da Vinci.

Basil Mahon has done a great job of telling Maxwell life and presenting his contributions to science in a way that a lay person can understand. The great thing is that he presents the methods or models used by Maxwell to reach his conclusions. It makes easier for us to understand the thought process of a genius.

Clearly Basil Mahon admired his subject, and by extension the reader will get involved.
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