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Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,039 ratings  ·  116 reviews
The story of two brilliant nineteenth-century scientists who discovered the electromagnetic field, laying the groundwork for the amazing technological and theoretical breakthroughs of the twentieth century.

Two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time were Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879). This is the story of how these two men
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Prometheus Books
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Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
Newton credited his success to “standing on the shoulders of giants”. A British reporter asked Albert Einstein if he had stood on the shoulders of Newton. Einstein replied, “That statement is not quite right; I stood on Maxwell’s shoulders.” Maxwell could be said to have stood on Faraday’s shoulders. Forbes and Mahon’s book lays out how they transformed physics paving the way for the momentous discoveries of the twentieth century.

Michael Faraday’s experiments with electricity and magnetism led n
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved every page of this book. A superb tandem biography of Faraday and Maxwell (and Heaviside to a much smaller degree). It is refreshing to celebrate real heroes, even those who have been dead for 150 years. The last biographical science book that I read that was this good was Simon Singh's Big Bang which I also recommend although it has many superficial biographical vignettes.

This was a non-technical read, although if you don't like science it would be a slog. However there are only three
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had thought that the leap forward to modern Physics was from Newton to Einstein. This book shines the spotlight on two true gentlemen of science, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. They were the ones who freed Physics from a view of the natural world that compared it to a machine like a clock and brought forward the idea that it is the concept of fields of energy that underlie our physical reality.

The affection and awe that Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon feel for these two giants are now m
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book that I could not put down. Very well researched. Real physics discussed, but easy to comprehend. The authors really did great starting with Faraday. I liked the descriptions of his early motor/generator experiments. The science and his life were seamlessly discussed. I was very sad when Faraday died in the book. But what a great transition to Maxwell. And Maxwell really did stand on the shoulders of Faraday. Both of these men make me want to double the number of labs I use as a ph ...more
Nyamka Ganni
Superb! Mind-blowing!
It was fascinating to learn about how electricity come to become indispensable part of our lives and how it all started with Faraday and many great minds before him!
Absolutely amazing! I'm starting to love physics all over again! Btw, Faraday is my favorite scientist!
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon

“Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field” is an excellent, readable book on the life and contributions of two science giants, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. Authors Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon join forces to provide the public a very enjoyable look at how the these two scientists built from successive ideas and discovered the electromagnetic field. This interesti
Graeme Roberts
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Charlene
What a superb book! I have never read an account of the history of science that gave me such deep pleasure. The writing is uniformly elegant and precise, and so lucid that even non-scientists can understand concepts and hypotheses that stumped all but a few physicists at the time. Many physics books, even those intended to make the science understandable to the layperson fail in that regard. You certainly don't need to love physics to enjoy it, but I think that you must be attuned to the great b ...more
G. Branden
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Forbes and Mahon have written a fabulous scientific biography, presenting us the life stories not only of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, but of the birth of electromagnetism as a field of serious study, unifying the phenomena of electricity and magnetism, thought separate for millennia.

In the final chapter they carry the story beyond Maxwell's death and link it satisfyingly with the development of quantum and special relativity theory.

This book left me wanting to read a biography of Ol
Luis Roberto Reyes Romero
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring for those of us that, just as Faraday did, believe that true science is about experimentation and curiosity, not ONLY about complicated equations and mathematical proofs.

Also, I learn more on 3 hours about the fundamentals of electromagnetism than from 2 semesters in college.

Good read all around.
Thomas Dietert
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this book-- it is exactly what I desired and expected it to be: A comprehensive tandem-biographical account and analysis of both Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell's personal and professional lives, as well as their seminal and groundbreaking experiments and formulations of a coherent theory of electromagnetism that provided the foundations and inspiration for almost all of modern physics. The authors do a fantastic job at blending the historical c ...more
Howard Liu
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ryan Curry
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I can comfortably say this is one of the best History of Science / Science Biography books I have read. Forbes and Mahon give an engaging and concise history of the electromagnetic field. In the process giving us a detailed look in the the lives of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell.

Somewhere in this book it is quoted that physicists everywhere still look to Clerk Maxwell as an inspiration and a role model. I would be surprised if any physics minded person c
Brent Neal
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
An engaging and involved biography of two of the most influential physicists of the modern age. One a seat-of-his-pants experimentalist, the other a careful mathematical prodigy, together they laid the foundation for all of modern physics. I especially appreciated that the book did not end with Maxwell's death, but rather continued the thread of how his ideas about electromagnetism were curated and expanded upon by others, leading ultimately to the Nobel-prizewinning work on the photoelectric ef ...more
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Electromagnetism and field theory is an all pervasive concept, and powers almost every other aspect of our lives, and hence it’s a challenge to our mind to imagine of a time when it was difficult to comprehend these concepts, let alone discover, in the face of the prevalent mechanical view of the world.
Faraday and Maxwell are, among many other great minds, humans who wandered at the edge of knowledge and science that was prevalent in their times. This book is not merely an account of their geniu
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I got my PhD in optics, and have always joked that if I get a tattoo, it'll be of Maxwell's equations, in vector calc form. I appreciated reading about where the theories came from, and what "established" science was overturned to get there. I also liked how detailed the information was about the experiments, at least in the early part of the chapter.

I felt the last third of the book, the people who came after Faraday and Maxwell, to be quite rushed. I would have like
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Among non-fiction , I love memoirs and autobiographies the most. Memoirs and autobiographies of great men are a widow to the times of their lives, their thought process and habits that made them successful.

Good memoirs come with great research on the subject matter that is related to the personality. For eg: I learnt many things about Relativity from his autobiography than many technical books.. I learnt many things about personal computers and the business of iPod and iPhone's from Steve Jobs
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While reading my physics textbook, I read the brief biographical entries of Faraday, and later on, Maxwell, and was immediately compelled to learn more about these two men. Not only did I enjoy learning about electricity and magnetism, but their individual stories seemed fascinating. After a brief search, I found this book and it was perfect; biographical details aplenty, and in-depth explanations of their discoveries.

Enough about me. The authors follow the stories of the mens' lives, starting
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This gives a good history and explanations of the process that led physicists to the idea of fields permeating all space. I especially like that it covers a broad range of time from Faraday to Maxwell and even to Oliver Heaviside (who seems to be often forgotten in electromagnetic physics history). The story is engaging and I enjoyed learning more about Faraday (I had read a Maxwell biography before). The book definitely gives one a better appreciation to the genius and the kindness of Faraday a ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Faraday, unlike Edison or Ford, gave us an idea not a product and we should be grateful for that. The methodology, stuck with us to this day and most of his ideas on Electricity and Magnetism are still the basis for much of physics. Sadly for this author, good stories happen to those that can tell them. I was left with disappointment that more of Faraday's life and experiments not part of this story. I was left wanting more and there is much more to this story than what was covered. ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The back-to-back lifetimes of these giants in physics gave us much of what we have today. All radio-wave (Electromagnetic waves) need Faraday and Maxwell. Here is another physics book that reads like and adventure novel. Very addicting! It is so cool to see the experiments described that define the beginning of our understanding of electricity and magnetism. These are not high-tech because they are so incredibly early and fundamental.
Scott Kirkwood
I found the frequent historical quotes distracting. Sometimes the author repeated themselves. would have preferred a little more math.
Pinak Mehta
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great admirer of Faraday and Maxwell!! They were truth-seekers and men with extreme generosity.
Siddhesh Ayre
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you like to read History of science then this is a great read.
Filip Ligmajer
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing

page 61 | location 930-934 | Added on Thursday, 17 July 2014 16:21:50

By Ampère's theory, the magnetic force was simply what you got when you added all the straight-line forces between pairs of current elements mathematically. Faraday saw things differently—to him, the magnetic force that curved around any current-carrying wire was not an indirect, mathematically derived effect of straight-line forces, it was something primal, a circular force in its own right. The idea of a circular force was qu
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5/5 stars - Most of us don't really remember what Faraday and Maxwell did; we have not much reason to. School textbooks somehow don't really capture the beauty of these geniuses.

Incidentally, the first physics "textbook" ever was written by Maxwell and apparently it was also quite boring and most of it was incomprehensible to most. So that's that. A bit of meta-weirdness.

But once you realise that Einstein considered Maxwell as the turning point in science, who in turn considered Faraday as t
Mike Davis
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to learn more about Michael Faraday. For a long time, I've admired his outsider approach to scientific thought, and his overall modesty as a human. Since I am a chemist, I was familiar with his role in electrochemistry, but I was less familiar with his work in electricity and magnetism. His writing was detailed and very prosaic, and the authors of this biography followed suit. As a result, there are long passages describing the science that were difficult to follow, even for those with ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book in preparation for visiting in a few weeks the James Clerk Maxwell museum in Edinburgh. I'm really looking forward to visiting the museum and taking a walking tour of all the sites in the city associated with the great James Clerk Maxwell. For As the reviewer says below, Newton credited his scientific success as, standing on the shoulders of giants. When Einstein was asked if he had stood on the shoulders of Newton, he said actually it was on Maxwell's shoulders. And Maxwel ...more
Mbogo J
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
The strength of this book lies in how it put the faces to the ideas and personalized the story of the electromagnetic field. Apart from the main acts of Faraday and Maxwell, we got to know about other lesser known names like Dr. William Gilbert who was among the first people to carry a scientific inquiry into magnetism by building his own model earth to the brash responses of Olivier Heaviside who perfected Maxwell's equations and when accused of not using Quaternions he had a clever reply. He t ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book will make you remember the wonderful Michael Faraday and the amazing James Clerk Maxwell! These were two extraordinary gentlemen, both seeking God's laws in nature by careful experimentations and brilliant minds, that will humble the reader.

As a young man, Faraday travelled to France along with his hero, Humphry Davy, who was to receive a science prize... DURING the Napoleonic wars!

There are many images and impressions that stand out, I would have to type a long text to attempt listing
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Nancy Forbes book traces the history of the discovery of the rules of electromagnetism and the lives of the scientists, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. I picked up this book because it was on a "best science books of the year" kind of list. The author manages to explain difficult concepts without the use of a single equation. In fact, even Maxwell's famous equations with the symbols for curl, divergence and gradient - mysterious even to someone familiar with mathematics - don't make it ...more
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2 likes · 0 comments
“A characteristic of Maxwell's work, indeed his life, was that he seemed to take everything in his stride—he was never hurried. Somehow, he and Katherine managed to go riding in the park most afternoons and, of course, they went on accumulating data on color vision, asking all new houseguests to have a go. They had installed the latest big color box near the window in an upstairs” 2 likes
“It is almost impossible to overstate the scale of Faraday and Maxwell's achievement in bringing the concept of the electromagnetic field into human thought.” 1 likes
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