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The Northern Lights: The True Story of the Man Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Aurora Borealis Paperback – October 29, 2002
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"As gripping as a Conan Doyle adventure." –Harper's Magazine
"Fascinating... evokes the manic, punishing era of polar exploration."– The New York Times Book Review
"A fascinating nugget of history... Jago charts her course unerringly."–Chicago Tribune
"Jago deftly paints a historical background for some of the most important concepts in electromagnetic theory today, breathing life into [her] subject."–Scientific American
"Thrilling... if you like a Faustian fable, war, and weird science, then this is for you."-Conde Nast Traveler
From the Inside Flap
Combining popular science, biography, and arctic adventure in a book that reads lika a cross between "Longitude, A Beautiful Mind, and "Into Thin Air, Lucy Jago presents a riveting acount of the life and work of Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland, the visioinary who solved the mysteries of the aurora borealis.
Here is the true story of an eccentric genius held captive by the allure of celestial splendor; of brushes with death on the remote snowcapped mountains of Norway and in the unforgiving, wartorn deserts of Africa; of the rival who cheated Birkeland of a Nobel Prize; and of the brilliant discoveries Birkeland made before his suspicious death in Japan in 1917. Meticulously researched and passionately wrought, The Northern Lights offers an enlightening account of the science behind one of nature's most spectacular displays and a revealing glimpse into the mind of one of history's most passionate and ill-fated scientists.
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Top customer reviews
Birkeland was an inventor, often distracted from what he loved best to work on projects that might help him to fund his expensive study of space and northern lights, as well as zodiacal lights near the equator. He pursued his varied projects with such single-mindedness that all else in his life went on the chopping block, including ultimately, his life itself.
The book is well-written and as readable as a scientific novel. Lucy Jago has previously worked on documentaries, and her research sometimes verges on the overly-detailed. Her hard work is obvious. The story in itself is a fascinating history of scientific study and the many obstacles that present along the way.
I've been told by an advocate of mainstream astrophysics that the book gets some details "wrong". I can only imagine now that they were referring to the epilogue, and specifically the disparaging statements regarding Sydney Chapman and Birkeland's treatment by establishment science. If I am right in this regard, I would have to take Lucy Jago's side on the debate. I would like to mention that Chapman had an opportunity to observe Kristian Birkeland's terrella experiment as recreated by Hannes Alfven. From what I understand, from other sources, Sydney Chapman refused to observe the terrella in operation when he was given the chance. This is a very important detail that I hope she decides to include in any future revisions as it perfectly replicates the way in which modern mainstream astrophysicists treat theories which they do not like. Rather than disproving them, they will refuse to read about them.
I found no serious faults with the book other than that though. The book would especially make a great read for an aspiring electrical engineer.
The book is an entertaining account, that falls short in its discussion of his science. As a personal account, his scientific journeys to Finmark in the heart of winter are an incredible demonstration of dedication to science.
Inspired by the beautiful moving curtains in the sky, Birkeland became set on researching the Lights, whether it meant risking his own life or even leaving his peaceful love life for work. Unfortunately, his devotion to the Research became his first priority, instead of his own health.
Throughout the novel, Birkeland is chased by the large amount of funding that he needs, in order to set up his laboratory and his equipment for his Northern Lights Project. The government of Norway is constantly having tensions with its neighbor: Sweden, always with the apprehension of war. Therefore, the government is never willing to give enough funding to support the scientist's project.
Lucy Jago takes us through Birkeland's adventures as if we were there with him through the harsh blizzards and storms. Jago paints the story with real events that happened during Birkeland's unfortunate, yet successful, life time.
Through reading this novel, I was truly inspired and was impressed by his work ethics. I realized that he put lots of effort into his career, and contributed so much to our scientific knowledge of our world. After reading this, I felt like a larger person at heart, because I was able to become aquainted with someone so skilled and intelligent.