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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  883 ratings  ·  103 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 th
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Prometheus Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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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 mag
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 gian
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
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 t
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.
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
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
Howard Liu
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Scott Kirkwood
I found the frequent historical quotes distracting. Sometimes the author repeated themselves. would have preferred a little more math.
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
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
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
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
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
Suneel Madhekar
As a student, I was intimidated by electromagnetic field theory. In the intervening years, nothing much has changed. So, I thought a popular book on the two legendary scientists who built the theory would be good to overcome the feeling of intimidation! Beyond doubt, Nancy Forbes provides a very readable, very humane picture of the lives and work of Michael Faraday and James Maxwell. The way the book is written not only does justice to the lives of the men, but also to the theory of the electrom ...more
Sep 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This book covers the life and ideas of Michael Farady and James Clerk Maxwell and the gradual discovery of the science behind electro-magnetism. The book does a good job—maybe too good—of covering their lives and the science that they discovered, Faradary through being a premier experimentalist and Maxwell being a premiere theorist (Maxwell built upon Faraday's discoveries).

It was an okay read that suffered from one glaring weakness: It is difficult to comprehend the facts of electro
Zack Endsley
Feb 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Engineering, Biography, History, Science
I found the information presented in this book about the lives of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell to be both compelling and entertaining. It is amazing to learn just how far ahead of their time these two gentlemen were in their thinking and research. They paved the way for major advancements in not only the world of electromagnetism, but chemistry, optics, physics, and the scientific community at large. In the final chapters the authors go on to explain how Oliver Heaviside, Lodge, Fitzg ...more
Shawn Dvorak
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting telling of the development of electromagnetic theory, the basis for much of modern physics, told from a human standpoint. Science in the mid-19th Century was primarily an observational undertaking, much more of an effort in collecting and cataloging instead of today's high-tech theoretical activities. Primarily an experimentalist, Michael Faraday was part of this "old school" tradition but formed an important bridge to the discovery of the underlying physical laws. His careful and ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
While well written and researched, this is too much biography and too little (popular) science. The problem with this of course is that very few scientists have led biographically interesting or important lives. For every Nash or Ramanujan, there are hundreds of Faradays and Maxwells. The interesting bit about the latter (to me at least) is far more the science they have produced than how they were when they produced it. In other words, I'd have preferred more text and explanation about the theo ...more
Dan D'avella
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics was my first read of 2017, and it set a high bar for everything else I intend to read this year. I love biographies of scientists because when done well they bring together my two favorite non-fiction genres (history and popular science, if you didn't guess). I had high hopes for this one going in because of the subject matter and because of other reviews. I was not disappointed.

When we think of exemplars of
Jim D'Ambrosia
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the best non-technical treatment I've seen of electromagnetic theory and its history. It gives a general history of the subject and decent biographies of Faraday and Maxwell. Those two are immensely sympathetic figures, beyond being stone cold geniuses, that I can't help but feel inspired while following their lives. Highly recommended if you have an interest in the subject, and don't already know everything about it.
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
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.
Madhav Sinha
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook-owned
Shoulders of the Giants

This book is a tremendous work of beauty, passion & scholarship, written in very simple language accessible to every kind of science enthusiast. Incredible how the writing has brought to life the persona & the academics of the two greatest quintessential scientists. Fabulous work. Every student of science, even elementary school science, must read it to comprehend the spirit of science, which is so sadly missing mostly in today's world.
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you, like me, have little background in physics, this book is a great place to begin. The dual biography helped me more than a biography of either. The authors were clear, without being condescending. The diagrams were very helpful. While I can't say that I fully understand all the science discussed, I do have a fuller appreciation of the revolutionary impact of the work of these two men.
Michael A. Shaw
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent tribute

We easily forget the broad, strong shoulders that we stand upon. This book made these amazing people come alive and explained their discoveries in a way that the layman can understand and appreciate.

In a very readable way she shows the development of physics from Newton to Faraday to Maxwell to Einstein.

Highly recommend.
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“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
“I have no reason to believe that the human intellect is able to weave a system of physics out of its own resources without experimental labor. Whenever the attempt had been made it has resulted in an unnatural and self-contradictory mass of rubbish.” 1 likes
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