THE MASTER OF LIGHT: A Biography of Albert A. Michelson by Dorothy Michelson Livingston

THE MASTER OF LIGHT: A Biography of Albert A. Michelson

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Livingston calls this biography ""a quest"" for her father, the Nobel Prize winning scientist Albert A. Michelson whose measurements of the velocity of light undermined Newtonian physics and paved the way for Einstein and the relativists. She has done her research diligently, even mastering the intricacies of Michelson's complex experiments in optics and explains them to the lay reader in reasonably lucid terms. Regrettably, the man proves far less accessible than the scientist or his work, a remote figure who awed his colleagues and terrified his graduate students. ""Dody,"" his youngest child by a second marriage, apparently knew him as an affectionate, if moody father; but it is his reputation not his personality which is limned in this industrious biography. A wholly self-made man who began life in a California mining town, Michelson started his light measurements while an ensign in the U.S. Naval Academy. His most remarkable achievement was the 1879 Michelson-Morley experiment which established the speed of light as a constant, subverting prevailing notions of ""ether"" as the medium through which it passed. Oddly Michelson was himself a rigid conservative who found Einstein's theory of relativity, to which he had inadvertently contributed, repugnant; to the end of his life he refused to accept it. Perhaps the best thing about Livingston's otherwise stilted biography is the sense it gives of the theoretical disputations ranging in the scientific community in the years of Planck, Bohr, Michelson and Einstein. She also tells you that Michelson played the violin, painted water colors and enjoyed tennis. But a recitation of the great man's accomplishments is not enough to make him either involving or endearing.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1973
Publisher: Scribners