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The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  634 ratings  ·  56 reviews
This is the first biography in twenty years of James Clerk Maxwell, one of the greatest scientists of our time and yet a man relatively unknown to the wider public. Approaching science with a freshness unbound by convention or previous expectations, he produced some of the most original scientific thinking of the nineteenth century - and his discoveries went on to shape th ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 15th 2004 by Wiley (first published October 17th 2003)
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Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The most important physicist, I didn't really know anything about.

Times Literary Supplement editorial of 1925, preserved in Trinity College Library, sums it up by saying that Maxwell was ‘to physicists, easily the most magical figure of the nineteenth century’.

CAST OF CHARACTERS from the ebook
Maxwell’s relations and close friends
Blackburn, Hugh: Professor of Mathematics at Glasgow University, husband of Jemima.
Blackburn, Jemima (née Wedderburn): James’ cousin, daughter of Isabella We
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Maxwell was perhaps the greatest physicist of the 19th century. Every civilized person should know that he formulated the (relativistically-correct!) field equations for electromagnetism. What I hadn't realized was that he practically had to invent vector calculus himself -- "div, grad, curl and all that' are substantially Maxwell's handiwork. He also made huge contributions to statistical mechanics and many other fields -- he showed that Saturn's rings could only be stable if they were composed ...more
Mike Bruce
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As the author admits, James Clerk Maxwell deserves to be recognized in the pantheon of Newton and Einstein. Newton unified all theories of mechanics (eg. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, etc); Maxwell unified all theories of electricity, magnetism and optics (eg. Faraday, Gauss, Ampere, Coulomb, etc). No small feat since it involved the novel concept of the “field” (now the basis for all fundamental theories), as first suggested by Faraday. Einstein, of course, was Einstein.

His theory (known as “Ma
Frank Peters
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Maxwell is probably as close to a hero as any man who has ever lived. Thus, from my perspective, any accurate biography of Maxwell deserves five stars merely for content. This book ably presents a short history of the great man. However, I am disappointed by the way in which the book was written. The author has chosen to follow the secularist agenda (as can be guessed since the book was recommended by the magazine – New Scientist), by relegating anything religious or spiritual to the irrelevant/ ...more
Jimmy Ele
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nice little biography. Doesn't ever get too technical about Maxwell's work. Gives you a good overview of his contributions to science. ...more
Ricardo Guerreiro
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I mean, read this book, whoever you are, what ever you do. The man, the (victorian) times, the things that were happening, the intellectual challenges and the beauty of the then found solutions or at least the attempts to find them, and as it all came together to be one of most interesting episodes in human history, portrayed in the life of James Clerk Maxwell made this, one of the most pleasing books to ever have crossed my eyes. The best part is to find a most generous, interested and interest ...more
Feb 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-math
I got this book for Christmas and loved it. It's amazing to read about how much of our current understanding of science we owe to this incredible man. ...more
Divya Pal Singh
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The normally irascible Isaac Newton remarked in 1676 …….. If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants. In turn, Einstein, when told that he had done great things because he stood on Newton's shoulders; Einstein replied: No I don't. I stand on the shoulders of Maxwell.
The influence of James Clerk Maxwell runs all through our daily lives. His electromagnetic waves made possible ALL forms of wireless communication. Colour TV and mobile phone screens work on the three-co
Dick Heimbold
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I get a kick out of learning how human knowledge evolves. Particularly scientific knowledge. This biography by Basil Mahon gave me the level of biographical detail that I like for a person that made contributions is so many areas. It was not overloaded with math, nor with detail about Maxwell’s personal life, making for a fairly short biography presenting a compact description of the his many accomplishments. There is little math notation in the book but his wave equations were presented for the ...more
Steven Shook
I had heard of James Clerk Maxwell many times -- in my high school physics courses, college and graduate studies courses, and as a professor -- but I never truly understood his impact or relative place in science. Mahon's The Man Who Changes Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell provides a holistic view of Maxwell in natural philosophy (i.e., physical science), his relationship with contemporaries, and his personal life journey.

Maxwell was simply an amazing mind and human - a once-in-a-gen
Tommy Lee Johnson
Mar 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The author puts forward the notion that James Clerk Maxwell is perhaps the most underappreciated figure in the history of Science and he goes on to make a pretty good case. I have had a layman's interest in modern (17th Century forward) science all my life. The name James Clerk Maxwell has popped up in many other books, but often as only the author of Maxwell's Equations which were never explained, but only described as the basic equations of electro-magnetism and so the foundation of modern phy ...more
Karla  Fox
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A thorough gentleman.

Basil Mahon Quotes

"People who knew Maxwell have left us with more than his scientific achievements. We have a picture of a man who was the kind of friend everyone would love to have: generous, considerate, brave, genial, entertaining and entirely without vanity or pretense. The friend who knew him best described his character having "A grand simplicity": he was the same all the way through and the same to everyone.

James own reflections on his life were typically self-effacin
Aiman Adlawan
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I like physics and I am so fascinated about Maxwell's contributions and discoveries. His undying thirst for knowledge and understanding how things work made him such an icon in the world of physics and math. One of the stories told in this book was that he spent lengthy hours reading books and other resources for him to gather all knowledge and assemble them in pieces. It really needs hard work and effect to achieve something. His story is so amazing. Very inspiring. Great book. Its an easy read ...more
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
The great genius, Maxwell, still doesn't get his due!

Maxwell is wellknown to students of science, but not quite a fashionable name to be dropped in social circles. This book tries to tell us how great he was and why he should be as widely name-dropped as Newton/Einstein/Hawking etc.
Though the book is thoroughly enjoyable (finished reading it in 3 suitings, great!), It hasn't the mettle to become a bestseller.
Let somebody write a bestseller on Maxwell! Please!
William V. Meyer
Worth reading

Well researched and written. Worth reading.

The Kindle version could be more carefully transcribed, small editing concerns like: all the * comments throughout the book are collected at the end on sequential pages that are not numbered, the fonts change in the middle of words, many dates contain spaces in the middle of the number for the year ...; minor publishing blemishes in a book that deserves better.
مهدي نصر الدين
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A neat insight on the life of Sir James Maxwell, the scientist who revolutionized the way we observe the physical world with his creative interpretations and imaginative thinking.
This book focuses on two cornerstones of James life:

His scientific personality, as well as his personal life as a real gentleman with a
loving personality and utmost kindness.

I recommend it to everyone.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Short little book but very engaging. I was very fascinated with the mechanical analogy that Maxwell used to visualize electromagnetic waves. Wish they had taught me that in my freshman physics classes.
Curtis Penner
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Mostly the book was physically difficult to read. Wiley did not do the reader any favor in the manner in which it was bound. Mr. Mahon was very vague about the state of physics in Europe at the time of Maxwell’s work. Beyond that, it is a fair book.
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great biography of an amazing scientist. Approachable, but also described Maxwell's discoveries and scientific thought process in a satisfying manner. ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-biog
Excellent short biography. It discusses Maxwell's large range of interests in both the maths and physics in sufficient detail for me to understand them.

I will read this again.
Hemhek Song
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Presents a deep perspective on Maxwell's legacy. ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A great portrait of the (probably) most influential physicist of the 19th century.
Jenny Hunt
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I couldn’t understand all the maths and physics, but a good biography and interesting to see all the things he contributed to bit others are famous for.
Oct 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Pretty bland writing imo but interesting material and work (re: James Maxwell).
Miguel Panão
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mahon is a wonderful storyteller! Maxwell’s life is as simple as fascinating.
Mark Moon
Easy and pleasant to read. Informative about Maxwell as a person, including details of his scientific activities, while being minimal on the technical details.
Justin Bintz
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My interest was sparked about James Clerk Maxwell from a passage in the Daemon haunted World by Carl Sagan and I couldn't resist learning more about the father of the modern age of science. Basil not only delivered comprehensive information about all of the pivotal life events of James but delved deeper into the equations and theorems Maxwell worked on than I had expected. It prompted me to research and learn more about the work he did than if he had just glazed over them. I believe this to be a ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it liked it
A great subject in JCM but somehow this book didn't reach me; I will await a better biography and try again. The author, Basil Mahon, is a clever guy but maybe he is not the man to take on the biography of this fascinating scientific innovator, it is not written in a style that sustains the readers interest. Einstein had a picture of JCM on his study wall and said that he stood on the shoulders of this man and his innovations but the astounding and highly complex achievements of Maxwell should b ...more
Edd Marbello-Santrich
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This guy, was one the most brilliant physicist that have borned. If we would have had a little bit of press, or living in the twentiest century, we woul be talking about one world star. His contributions in electricity and magnetism, are the most relevant. However, James' work on Statistical Mechanics, The Satrun's rings and optics, show us the power of a mind with a deep reasoning and power. It is necessary to say, he wasn't a good teacher as well. But, when we are talking about of the angular ...more
May 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
A concise history of the works and influence of James Clerk Maxwell. Without being overly scientific it puts into context the huge leaps made by Maxwell. At the same time it is a biography, and it is a little to enamoured of Maxwell to be a real look at his life. Too much of a love in. There is definitely something to his relationships which is glossed over. Maybe someone else will write a psychological biography. This book does what it says on the cover so it can't be faulted for that. ...more
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