FARADAY, MAXWELL, AND THE ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELD by Nancy Forbes
Kirkus Star

FARADAY, MAXWELL, AND THE ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELD

How Two Men Revolutionized Physics

KIRKUS REVIEW

Forbes (Imitation of Life: How Biology Is Inspiring Computing, 2004, etc.) and Mahon (Oliver Heaviside: Maverick Mastermind of Electricity, 2009, etc.) offer a compelling new interpretation of the seminal importance of the discoveries of Michael Faraday (1791–1861) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879).

The authors explain “the way that Faraday and Maxwell's concept of the electromagnetic field transformed scientists' view of the physical world,” beginning with Faraday's anticipation of a unified field theory that would include the force of gravity as well as electromagnetism and the propagation of light. His ideas were so advanced that not only did he reject the Newtonian concept of action-at-distance, then prevalent among scientists, but also the existence of an ether. “From today's perspective…Faraday, the bold theorist, was making an advance announcement of a scientific transformation that has given us not only electromagnetic theory but special relativity,” write the authors. Faraday is credited as the brilliant experimentalist who “discovered the principle of the electric motor,” while Maxwell, with his groundbreaking Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, laid the groundwork for modern field theory. Forbes and Mahon show that Maxwell adhered to Faraday's hypothesis that the propagation of electricity and magnetism in space occurred through the vibration of lines of force. He developed his famous equations by first adapting the mathematical treatment of fluid flow and a mechanical model of spinning cells with minute ball bearings as heuristic models. Only then did he dispense with these models and directly employ the “mathematical laws of dynamics” to electromagnetism, thus laying the basis for modern field theory. The authors emphasize that, for Maxwell, his use of models “didn't purport to represent nature's actual mechanism, it was merely a temporary aid to thought.”

A lively account of the men and their times and a brilliant exposition of the scientific circumstances and significance of their work.

Pub Date: March 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61614-942-0
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014




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