The consummate research scientist was a nice man, too, according to this respectful biography by Hirshfeld (Physics/Univ. of Massachusetts Dartmouth; Parallax, 2001).
An eager autodidact while still an apprenticed bookbinder, Michael Faraday (1791–1867) earnestly attended lectures at London’s Royal Institution, where he brought himself to the attention of aristocratic chemist Sir Humphrey Davy. He became Davy’s acolyte and Man Friday, traveling to the Continent with the great man and the great man’s scornful wife. Soon Faraday himself was lecturing at the Royal Institution. He eventually became a member, over the initial objection of Sir Humphrey, and remained at the Institution for the rest of his scientific career. The former craftsman entertained children with demonstrations of static electrical phenomena. He countered the craze for spiritualism with experiments that discredited the alleged art of non-corporeal furniture-moving. He devised and demonstrated prototypes of an electromagnetic motor, a transformer, a capacitor, a dynamo. He hypothesized about light waves, magnetic polarity and field theory. Among his magnets, galvanometers, coils and sparks, he conducted dazzling experiments that illuminated hitherto hidden forces of nature. While his electrical discoveries became landmarks in the history of science, there was little to shock anyone in Faraday’s personal history. He married, gained fame, became old and forgetful, then died peacefully, having given little offense during his long life. His correspondence reveals an elegant writer and a generous mentor to James Clerk Maxwell, among others. As a formulator of the modern scientific method and an exemplary investigator, he stood in the forefront of a distinguished line that led from benighted alchemy to technological innovations like BlackBerries and iPods. The author takes evident pleasure in recounting his subject’s scientific contributions.
Satisfying for those who get a special charge out of stories from the annals of science.