HIDDEN ATTRACTION by Gerrit L. Verschuur


The Mystery and History of Magnetism
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 Using the story of magnetism as his framework, Verschuur (The Invisible Universe, 1986--not reviewed) discusses--from the vantage point of a committed propagandist for the scientific method--our historical journey from superstition to physics. Like a fusty old uncle who's nonetheless immensely learned and ultimately charming, Verschuur takes us by the hand and leads us from the almost alchemical experiments of the first true scientists, who explored the properties of lodestone, through the great pioneers of electricity (Faraday, Oerst, and Ampäre, whose Kantian belief in the unity of natural phenomena led to the fusion of electromagnetism) to a brief primer on supersymmetry and the Theory of Everything, as well as on his own work in detecting the magnetic fields of galaxies. Displaying both his prickly disdain for the superstitious and an enthusiastic, almost naive approach to his scientific heroes, Verschuur sprinkles his text with fascinating anecdotes and well-chosen illustrations. Thumbnail biographies of principal scientists cleverly demonstrate how their backgrounds influenced their work (for example, the Protestantism of Faraday insisted on direct experience of the Bible without a priestly interpreter; similarly, the scientist chose to dispense with earlier, eventually disproved, hypotheses about electricity and to begin with the direct experience of experimentation). Repetitive and often stylistically clichÇd (``to make a long story short''; ``the moral of the story is,'' etc.); still, an entertaining, informative history that doubles as a solid guide to the nature of magnetism and electricity. (Sixteen halftones, seven line drawings.)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-506488-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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