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Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age Johns Hopkins Paperback Ed Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801869099
ISBN-10: 0801869099
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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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Product Details

  • 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: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The back cover blurb of this book tells a lie: "This acclaimed biography is the only one devoted to Oliver Heaviside." Nahin himself mentions two others, by Bolotovsky and by Searle, and two more unpublished ones, by Gossick, and most significantly, by Henry J. Josephs, of whom more later.

Nahin is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire, and expresses opinions as facts with typical academic self-assurance. Tesla, for example, was "at best ... a seriously disturbed individual," who "neither used nor needed analytic reasoning." Alfred O'Rahilly's incisive examination of the fundamentals of electromagnetics is just a "polemic against Einstein and relativity theory." And so on.

However, Nahin has still written a very interesting, readable account of Heaviside's life and work. There are chapters on Heaviside's early life, his work in early telegraphy, his battles with William Preece of the GPO, his electrodynamics and operational calculus, Maxwell, quaternions, the age-of-the-earth controversy, his final years, and more. Nahin's writing style is good, with quite a few gossipy details; the book is nicely illustrated, and has been well proof-read (except that André-Marie Ampère is always shorn of all accents). It is thorough, informative, and gives useful mathematical details in end-of-chapter "Tech Notes."

Now to H. J. Josephs, who was a mathematical physicist with the Post Office research section. In this reviewer's opinion, Josephs has delved more deeply and with greater insight into Heaviside's work than anyone else.
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I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the sung and unsung heroes of science and engineering. However, appreciating Heaviside requires a fairly in-depth understanding of E&M (Electricity and Magnetism) theory. That's just the way it is. The more you delve into the subject, the greater will be your respect and amazement for the stupendous theoretical contributions this strange hermit accomplished.

From this book, as far as classical E&M goes, he was way way ahead of his time. This is clearly the case when you consider the list of acclaimed contemporary scientists (Lords Kelvin and Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson et. al.) who held Heaviside in such high esteem. Likewise, being far ahead of his time, brought on the criticism and hatred from those in power unable or unwilling to understand. Of course, Heaviside, being withdrawn and acidic toward his critics, added his own gasoline to fuel these fires of hatred and jealousy. That was his major fault and we can all learn a lesson from it.

I first heard the name Heaviside while taking Electrical Engineering courses as an undergraduate. There were brief mentions of the Heaviside Operational Calculus and some of his clever tricks. However, we learned the method of the Laplace transform and even the Heaviside expansions from Engineering Mathematics were taught in this "modern" context. Much later I took more advanced courses in E&M. I had purchased various supplimental text books on the subject and found that one mentioned that the so called four famous Maxwell equations were actually derived from Maxwell's Treatise by Heaviside (True, as affirmed by Nahin in his book). Again the name of Heaviside mysteriously reappears.
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Oliver Heaviside is certainly one of the strangest figures in the history of physics. Caustic and anti-social, Heaviside came out of poverty and basically educated himself to become one of the finest mathematical physicists of the late 19th century. His work in applied mathematics, telegraphy and telephony put him at the cutting edge of applied physics but his personality, his extreme sensitivity to slights, and his often well-justified battles with the big names of electrical engineering at the time made him highly controversial. He could not resist a good fight, often adding personal insults to his opponents in his technical articles. He almost never left his home and lived off his parents much of his life, sitting in an incredibly hot, stuffy room advancing mathematical physics. Heaviside's name is largely unknown to the public today except in a very strange way that somehow fits the life of this unusual man. Heaviside did very little theoretical work on the wireless (early radio) but his name became famous in his time for hypothesizing a layer in the upper atmosphere, now called the ionosphere, that explained how the wireless could function without the rays going off into space. This section of the atmosphere was called for many years the Kennelly - Heaviside Layer, then just the Heaviside Layer. For reasons unknown to me, T.S. Eliot used the phrase in a letter. When Andrew Lloyd Webber adopted Eliot's book of whimsical poems, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, into his great musical Cats, going to "the Heaviside Layer" became the theme of much of the show and some of the best songs. Alas, the mathematical genius, who felt he never got the respect he deserved, is now memorialized in a play that he himself would probably loathe.Read more ›
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