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The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell Paperback – October 15, 2004
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"...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
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fabulous book and story of James Clerk Maxwell's life and accomplishments. He is one of the greatest physicists of all time.Published 3 days ago by David S.
The author of this book presented Mr Maxwell's life in a way that I literally lived and walked through his life and times. Amazing read!Published 28 days ago by Prince Oricha
I probably would not have read this book had I not been informed three times in the space of two weeks (twice in science books, once in an astronomy lecture) that James Clerk... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Harry Eagar
Well written and detailed account of one of the worlds greatest minds and man. I especially liked the detail given to Maxwell's work. Read morePublished 10 months ago by GeoScientist
Largely unknown otherwise than a great scientist, probably because of the complexity of his four equations, this book shows a man full of humanism. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Pierre Van Leeuw
Faraday, Oersted, Volta, explored the electromagnetic phenomena. Maxwell put them all on a complete footing with equations that seem so simple you just keep looking at them in... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Charles J. Dubats