- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition 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: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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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Hirshfeld writes in a clear and easy-to-read style that keeps the reader interested in the flow of Faraday's life. He explains the origin of what today is our electrical infrastructure in comprehensible language with excellent images to support them. In the 210 pages of text he covers all the critical events of Faraday's life from his upbringing as a blacksmith's son to his apprenticeship for the charismatic Humphry Davy to his success as the leading physicist in England and finally to his support for the person who gave the mathematical foundation to his speculations about "fields," James Clerk Maxwell. Faraday combined his experimental genius with a genuine sense of humility largely imbued in him by his lifelong membership in the Sandemanian sect of Protestantism. This group, which I had never heard of prior to this book, was a wellspring of support for Faraday his entire life. It helped him keep his life in focus. Part of that focus was to write about his failures as well as his successes because his goal was not to look good but to get at the truth. His book Experimental Researches in Electricity not only explains the origin of many of the ideas that run the modern world but also is a manual about doing science - the failed and successful experiments, what materials and techniques worked and which did not - all explained in nonmathematical terms. At the same time that he was changing our view of nature, Faraday started a series of science lectures for children in 1826 and he himself gave most of them. He argued that, while science was changing the world, the majority of young people were being raised with superstition, folklore ideas about the world and what we call today pseudo-science. (As Hirshfeld notes, similarities with the contemporary world are clear.) His lectures for adults at the Royal Institution were not as theatrical as Davy's but became staples on Friday nights for anyone interested in how the physical world worked. Besides being a first-rate original thinker, Faraday was also a clear communicator of scientific ideas until the last decade or so of his life. What appears to be some form of early dementia deprived science of one of its greatest spokesmen.
This book has my highest recommendation. It was hard to put down. The gradual loss of memory and function that Faraday experienced is especially tragic in the sense that this man had given so much to science and never wanted to quit his experimentation. What Michael Faraday gave to us is something we enjoy every day that we heat our houses, cook our food and turn on our lights. He was also a genuinely good human being. You would not be disappointed in this book.
If you appreciate science or history, you'll find this book a gem. While I am naturally in awe of Faraday's scientific discoveries, what surprised and fascinated me was to learn how strange Western Society was in the early 19th Century, judging it from today’s (Western Society’s) perspective.
Finally, this book is uplifting. It gives hope for those facing challenges, conveying that anything is possible despite facing challenges that may appear insurmountable.
I want to thank the author for writing it.
Michael Faraday received NO education in schools, and life's education never gave him an inkling of mathematic theory, yet -or perhaps because of it- he became the most highly regarded experimental scientist in a very prolific experimental era, when for instance people would discover new elements like chlorine. To a career of detailing every conceivable observable aspect of electrical and magnetic phenomena, we owe the development of the electromagnetic field equations. James Clerk Maxwell, after reading the documentation of experiment after experiment, and at first thinking Faraday had dead wrong notions of the observations he had written up, became convinced, by sheer wealth of detail, that Faraday conception was exactly right, and decided to somehow develop a theory along different lines than the eminent theoretical scientists had done to that time.
Maxwell's third iteration is the abstract mathematical one known as the electromagnetic field equations. While doing the second version, Maxwell realized that electromagnetic waves should be created, and that known physical constants were enough to calculate their speed. The calculation gave a well-known, but startling, number, the identical number known from astronomy to be the speed of light. Too much of a coincidence to draw any other conclusion than that light must be an electromagnetic wave. WOW!