The Electric Life of Michael Faraday Hardcover – Mar 7 2006
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
Nineteenth-century English scientist Faraday, who made the revolutionary discovery that electricity, magnetism and light are all related, personified the self-made man. Son of a blacksmith, Faraday (1791–1867) was apprenticed at an early age to a bookbinder, who encouraged him to pursue the interest in science that he'd gained from reading the books that crossed his workbench. By a great stroke of luck, he went to work for the eminent scientist Sir Humphry Davy. As physicist Hirshfeld (Parallax) relates, from that point on, Faraday proved unstoppable as he made important discoveries in every field he applied himself to. His breakthrough came when he discovered that he could induce an electric current by moving a magnet inside a coil of wire. This led to his development of the dynamo, precursor to the electric motor. Equally important, Faraday hypothesized that electromagnetism extended into space via lines of flux. Faraday's background in mathematics was weak, so he couldn't prove this, but a young scientist he befriended late in his career, James Clerk Maxwell, finally did. In an elegantly written biography, Hirshfeld, winner of a Templeton Foundation prize for an essay on Faraday, captures the scientist's rough-and-tumble times, and most readers will be able to follow his clear descriptions of Faraday's achievements. 18 b&w illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This is the second recent biography of Michael Faraday (1791-1867), following the lengthier A Life of Discovery, by James Hamilton (2004). Shorter biographies are the rage these days, and Hirshfeld's efficiently explains Faraday's status as one of the most inspirational and significant figures of science. His up-by-the-bootstraps story tugs at the heartstrings, while his adherence to the experimental method engages the intellect. It is evident, too, that Hirshfeld, a physics professor and author of popular astronomy (Parallax, 2001), also delights in Faraday's effort to interest the public in science with the weekly demonstrations he gave for decades at London's Royal Institution. Best of all, Hirshfeld delivers concise verbal descriptions of the experiments that Faraday conducted on electricity, magnetism, and light, the body of which directly led to James Clerk Maxwell's mathematical theories unifying light and electromagnetism--and to the dynamo and radio. A vibrant portrayal that emphasizes Faraday's qualities of wonder, acuity, and diligence, which propelled him to greatness. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hirschfeld's book is a highly-readable biography of the man who started the world on the path to radio, electronics, and computers. Wireless pioneers Marconi, Fessenden, deForest and others built their technology on the scientific foundation laid by Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz, both of whom credited Faraday's work as the basis of their own.
Faraday's contributions to electrical science were numerous and far-reaching. Among others, he discovered electrical induction (making the world's first transformer), made the first electric motor, made the first electric generator. and was the first to show that magnetic effects could change the polarization of light (what now is called Faraday rotation). Faraday's later speculations about electric fields were, according to Maxwell, what spurred the latter to begin the work that led to Maxwell's famous equations describing electromagnetic radiation. When Hertz first produced radio waves in his laboratory, he also acknowledged that he was following on the work of not only Maxwell but of Faraday. In telling the story of these discoveries by Faraday and his successors, Hirshfeld, a physics professor, is careful to put their work in the context of our modern understanding.
Faraday entered the world of science through the back door. The son of a blacksmith, Faraday became an apprentice bookbinder. Inspired by some of the scientific texts he was binding, he began experimenting in his spare time. Self-taught in science through his reading and his experiments, Faraday began his scientific career as a menial assistant to famed British scientist Humphrey Davy. Eventually, he rose to the directorship of a research institute, fellowship in Britain's Royal Society and acclaim as one of the world's leading scientists. Hirshfeld's account of Faraday's career gives us an intriguing glimpse into the sociology and politics of 19th-Century science.
Readers who enjoy electronic tinkering will relate well to this story of a scientist whose first love was his laboratory, and who could readily lose track of time while building and experimenting with new apparatus. Faraday's approach to science was completely "hands-on." When he built the first Faraday cage, he crawled inside it himself to prove that it worked. Occasionally, Hirshfeld relates, Faraday's wife had to pick glass shards from her husband's skin after an experiment inadvertently exploded.
In his later years, Faraday became an avid proponent of science education and of promoting scientific literacy among the public. His thoughts on those subjects, related by Hirshfeld, are as relevant today as when Faraday wrote them.
Hirshfeld's book shows how all of electronics really got its start in Faraday's laboratory, and tells in fast-paced, readable fashion the fascinating story of one of history's greatest scientists.
[Hirshfeld is also author of "Parallax: the Race to Measure the Cosmos"]
From the dust jacket of this book, a photograph of Michael Faraday's looks out toward us. His face is the very depiction of human kindness and his eyes show forth a tenderness that is almost maternal. It is a compelling face, and in a social setting, one would feel drawn to stand toe to toe with such a man.
Hirshfeld has authored an endearing view of 19th Century English life through Faraday's eyes, a life characterized by the snobbery of class distinctions, combined with the imminent discoveries of science in many fields.
In scarcely a century and a half, mankind went from the Voltaic Cell to Nuclear Power, and the discoveries of both and everything in between are linked, and the scientific work of Faraday is the key to all. It is Faraday's pursuit of the idea of magnetic "fields" that showed the way. James Clerk Maxwell employed his mathematical talents to put Faraday's ideas into the form of equations. Albert Einstein would later use these equations to arrive at E=MC (squared), opening the door to the Nuclear Age.
Until I read this biography, I was not clear on who or when or how our knowledge and identification of Elements came to be. It was the use of the Voltaic Cell, a battery, whose electro-chemical process separated any compound into its basic elements that served as the tool of discovery. Faraday was in hot pursuit of the science of electricity and magnetism, which led him to approach Humphry Davy of the Royal Institute concerning employment. Davy was at the forefront of the use of the Voltaic Cell for discovery.
Nitrous Oxide was an early gas to fall prey to Davy's efforts, and these early scientists, including Faraday, would sometimes engage in "laughing gas" parties, from which there were no harmful effects.
Faraday was not a mathematician, and didn't have much in the way of credentials as a THEORIST. He was respected as an EXPERIMENTER. Faraday had to try all the harder to confirm, by experimental proof, his intuitive idea that magnetism existed as a field of curved lines, and also that magnetism was not a different energy, unconnected to electricity; but a counterpart of a common, electromagnetic force.
The account of Faraday's experiments with electricity, to see if it affected light, and then magnetism to see if it affected light, is one of the book's high points. That was close to the end of Faraday's career, when he was experiencing some occasional memory loss and worked constantly.
The hight point of the book comes when Faraday has passed the peak of his career, and Scotsman James Clerk Maxwell researches Faradays writings on FIELD THEORY.
When I got to the final pages, and the account of Faraday's funeral, I found I had tears in my eyes.
Author Alan Hirshfeld explains the resistance Faraday faced to his ideas because he had no formal education and was unable to couch his discoveries in mathematical terms. This was later done by James Clerk Maxwell ("The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell" by Basil Mahon). Hirshfeld has an easy-to-read style and the story moves along at a good clip. The only real short-coming of the book was the lack of information on Faraday's personal life. His marriage was mentioned only in passing and I can't help but feel that there is a lot more to know about Faraday. Although some of the physics was a little technical and hard to understand, the story is not really about that; it's about how a brilliant man with no education rose to the top of British science and the challenges he faced in getting there.
I read the books on Faraday and Clerk Maxwell one after the other and this gave a great overview of 19th century British physics. I recommend that anyone interested in the history of science read both of these books and in historical order (Faraday first, then Clerk Maxwell).
Past the age of his mid-forties, Faraday begins to have 'brain exhaustion' and he must leave his work for periods to 'recharge' his mind. Later in life he seems to have suffered from loss of memory and recall which seems to be a type of 'organic brain syndrome' or senility. This is where Hirshfeld loses his ability as a biographer and becomes a scientist. Hirshfeld doesn't seem to explore at all what is happening to Faraday or how he worked around it.
Having been born with dyslexia, which in my case is more related to numbers than letters, there are ways that I (like most people so afflicted) have learned to 'work around' it. I've developed double checks and such to correct my math and my spelling. It would be interesting to see how this man who experimented so meticulously was able to protect the integrity of experiments. He could also have spent some more time on his marriage of over forty years.
From this beginning Faraday was to go on to basic discoveries in physics, particularly electricity. He made the basic discovery that a magnet moving across a wire generated an electric current in that wire. From this came the basic understanding to build electric generators and motors. This was at at eime whent he basic nature of electricity were being investigated. Faraday is honored today by the adaption of a shortened version his name, to the basic measure of capacitance -- the farad.
This book represents a new trend in the publishing of biographies, a smaller size, both the physical page size and the number of pages to produce a book easier to read than the massive tomes common a few years ago.
This is a well researched and clearly written book that is an easy, injoyable read.