- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Johns Hopkins Paperback Ed edition (October 9, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801869099
- ISBN-13: 978-0801869099
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age Johns Hopkins Paperback Ed Edition
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"How was it that a man who had no formal education after the age of sixteen could apply operational calculus to technological problems in a way that other eminent mathematical physicists had not? Why was a charged layer of the ionosphere named after him? The best way to gain an insight into the life and work of this eccentric genius will be to delve into this delightful book."(International Journal of Electrical Engineering Educators)
"A good book by a careful, historically minded engineer... A lively, informative narrative of Heaviside's life and work. Nahin has exhaustively resurveyed archives and contemporary sources and is very much at home in historical discussions of Victorian physics."(Isis)
About the Author
Paul J. Nahin is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of Time Machines, An Imaginary Tale and The Science of Radio.
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This book is exceptionally well-written. Another reviewer cites some issues with it but, simply in terms of readability, the book is first-rate. As Nahin notes, it is impossible to write a biography of Heaviside without mathematics. Many of Heaviside's most important papers are page after page of math. Nahin's solution to writing for the general reader is excellent. At the end of each chapter are "Tech Notes." Here he explains the mathematical details of what he discussed in prose in the chapter. This allows the nonmathematically trained but interested reader to either delve into these or skip them; for the trained reader, these notes go into more depth on the issues. The book also has extensive photographs and images of the people Heaviside dealt with, from his few friends like Oliver Lodge and George FitzGerald to his enemies like Peter Tait and his archenemy, William Henry Preece. The Preece-Heaviside controversy, which runs through most of Heaviside's adult life, is worth the price of the book in itself. It not just shows the battle between a respected establishment figure with limited ability (and a large ego) with a mathematical genius, but highlights the major difference at the time between the "practical men" in electrical engineering and the mathematicians. It also shows how the class distinctions of the time affected the advance of science. Nahin also includes newspaper images from the time either showing or lampooning some of the issues discussed in the book. Given the topic of the biography, the overall organization of this book could not be better.
I did not expect such an enjoyable work. Oliver Heaviside, who, as we might say today, had more "issues" than another five people put together, does not lend himself easily to a biography that a reader might care about. However, without covering up any of Oliver's flaws, Nahin manages to have the reader feel sympathy for this man. At the same time the book takes the reader on a well-written journey through the state of physics at the end of the 19th century. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of physics or electrical engineering or, for that matter, anyone interested in the strange quirks of an isolated genius.
The Life, Work & Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age
By Paul J Nahin
Oliver Heaviside is, or should be, a legend. With no formal education after the age of sixteen, Heaviside resigned from his one and only job at age twenty-four; devoted the next thirty five years to first rate scholarly research; was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society; but lead his life as only he wanted his life to be lead. Fortunately, "England takes great pride and pleasure in her eccentrics".
A pioneer of modern electrical theory he made advances in physics where he formulated the modern expressions of Maxwell's Laws; in mathematics by introducing operational calculus; in electrical engineering; and in controversy over the age of the earth.
This is a wonderful book. Indeed it would make a wonderful film*. What contrasting characters! Heaviside who cared little for social interaction was an energized disciple of the great James Clark Maxwell; C. H. W. Biggs his publisher at the practical electrical trade magazine `The Electrician'; William Preece the classic public servant engineering head of England's monopoly GPO; physicist William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) and other genius correspondents. All in a setting of laying submarine telegraph cables linking the whole world to London and cables crisscrossing England. Proudly, one could send a message literally around the globe in fifty-six hours at $18 per word!
Heaviside a practical man worked with physicists, mathematicians, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, tradespeople, and publishers. It was a time of triumph, industry, and communications. A time of intellectual conflict between Heaviside and mathematicians (`Heaviside's methods seemed a kind of mathematical blasphemy, a willful sinning against the light. Yet Heaviside's results were always correct!'); physicists (the Vector v's Quaternion war); bureaucrats (at the GPO); geologists (Charles Darwin on the age of the Earth); even poetry;
Self-induction's in the air
Waves are running to and fro
Here they are, there they go.
Try to stop `em if you can,
You British Engineering man!
This is a nicely produced, easily read book, which ends each chapter with uncompromising technical notes but includes stimulating gossip, old photographs and cartoons.
(* Interestingly, Film Australia "Constructing Australia - a Wire through the Heart" dramatizes the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph link in 1872 connecting Australian cities to the international submarine cable to Java thence to London.)
21 May 2011