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Maxwell on the Electromagnetic Field: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery) Paperback – February 1, 1997
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This book was well-written and a wonderful read. I highly recommend it.
As the other reviews suggest, this is NOT the place to start your study of E & M. There are two objectives the book DOES help to meet. First, if you already know a bit about Maxwell's Equations and you want to learn something of the ways in which Maxwell (and indirectly, Faraday) thought about the subject as they developed their ideas, this is a very good book. Secondly, for those, like me, with a poor "intuition" about E & M, I think the book will sharpen our vision in a way that contemporary texts may not. The book makes clear that Faraday and Maxwell certainly stumbled along the way, and got some wrong notions in their heads as they worked hard towards the truth. If you learn just from modern textbooks, you may get the false impression that the greats were infallible, and that you are somehow "foolish" if you either (a) just don't "see" it, or (b) waste your time trying to "see" it when "after all it's all about the mathematics anyway." Just watching Maxwell struggle to visualize what is going on gives me more courage in my efforts to visualize what is going on.
I'm a civil engineer who has never had to use E & M seriously, but since college 30 years ago, I've wanted to gain some intutitive feel for what is happening in Maxwell's Equations. It was exciting for me to read the introductory material giving the context of Faraday and Maxwell struggling for the same "insight" into how things work, especially in the face of a very powerful intellectual movement that said "it's all in the mathematics; don't waste your time trying to visualize it."
As one of the other reviews points out, the historical background is very helpful. If it is true that this book is perhaps NOT the place to start your study of Electricity and Magnetism, I agree strongly with one of the other reviewers that going straignt to Maxwell WITHOUT this guide will be even more fraught, as words and definitions have naturally evolved in 150 years. Armed with more of the context from this book, I may end up engaging with Maxwell more directly.
I disagree that the first paper is a "waste of time", although I'm no scholar of the literature of the era. My own background is more in fluid mechanics and hydraulics, and I was astonished that the first paper lays out very clearly the mechanics and geometry of potential theory (relevant to ideal inviscid flow and groundwater flow, as well as heat and electrostratics) in the form of a "letter to Faraday", i.e. a paper working to avoid all the mystification of mathematical symbols by using plain English to the extent that he could to lay out the ground rules, methods, and consequences of potential theory. Modern textbooks don't do this job much better, and Maxwell takes the time to make the imagery as physical as possible. Not only is this paper inherently interesting to me because of its subject (it could be called "visualizing the geometry of potential theory"), but also because it shows how Maxwell, following Faraday's vision, worked to shift thinking from "action at a distance" to "field theories" and the phenomena of "transmission" (or "induction").
The book does have some organizational problems, as you read related arguments 3 times (the article itself, the annotation, and then the discussion pieces.) I share, with the other readers, frustrations about the omissions from the original papers. Finally, the premise, (that you can use this in a Great Books program to convey the miracle of Maxwell's and Faraday's insight to the non-scientist) is also dubious. If I wanted to explain the amazing power of Maxwell's discoveries to a non-scientist, I would not start with this book.
BUT I have been curious about Maxwell's equations for over thirty years, and this book is scratching a long-standing itch as many others have not. I am grateful to the editors/authors for their efforts, and I believe some others will find it as valuable as I have.
The major problem with the book is that the author had a weired notion, that he could explain Maxwell better than Maxwell himself. Instead of giving the original version of Maxwell's text first and add his own comments after that, Mr. Simpson decided to re-shaffle Maxwell's work at his own will and insert his unwanted comments right in the middle of Maxwell's original lines without even distinct marking. What had he accomplished by that ? Made his own book unreadable - complete mess.
In short - Do NOT waste a penny on this useless book...
Even a one star rating for this book is too much...