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The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell [Paperback]

Basil Mahon
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Aug 2004
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 the twentieth century.

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The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell + The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac + A Brief Guide to the Great Equations
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (13 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470861711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470861714
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"This is a wonderful, short biography that gives a vivid account of James Clerk Maxwell′s life and work." ( Materials Today , June 2004) " absorbing account of Maxwell′s life and work" ( Sunday Telegraph Review , 19 th September 2004) "...provides the reader with the opportunity to understand Maxwell′s contributions to modern science and technology." ( The Mathematical Gazette , March 2005) "...a fascinating book about an inspiring man..." ( Journal of Raman Spectroscopy , Vol.36, No.3, March 2005)

“This is a wonderful, short biography that gives a vivid account of James Clerk Maxwell’s life and work.” (Materials Today, June 2004) “ absorbing account of Maxwell′s life and work” (Sunday Telegraph Review, 19 th September 2004) “…provides the reader with the opportunity to understand Maxwell’s contributions to modern science and technology.” (The Mathematical Gazette, March 2005) “…a fascinating book about an inspiring man…” (Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, Vol.36, No.3, March 2005)

From the Inside Flap

James Clerk Maxwell (1831– 1879) changed our perception of reality and laid the foundations for many of the scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century. An unassuming and modest man, who simply wanted to understand how the world around him worked, he made fundamental contributions to every aspect of physical science. By discovering the nature of electromagnetic waves, he made possible the development of our great communications networks: television, radio, radar and the mobile telephone. He took the first colour photograph and introduced the system of thought experiments, later used by Einstein. His influence across all areas of physical science has been enormous. Often his ideas were ahead of his time and we had to wait many years before others confirmed his theories. Leading scientists have always recognised Maxwell as a giant figure and he holds a unique position among them, inspiring both wonder and affection. In life, he was a blend of opposites – a serious man who saw fun everywhere, a hopeless teacher who inspired students, a shy man who was the hub of any gathering where he felt at ease.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but... 10 July 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book which covers the life of James Clerk Maxwell, the man famous for his equations that tied together electricity and magnetism to create formulae for electro-magnetic radiation including light. The book covered his life and his science and made me aware of just how much more he had contributed in addition to these famous equations. As it goes through his life it gives you enough to understand what he did, where he did it, and with who etc.. And it's a nice length too.

But a few disappointments. Firstly there was some maths in there, but not enough to really understand (unless I suspect you had already done it at University). So we are introduced for example to curl. The author makes a valiant attempt to describe what this means, but for me ultimately he fails -- there just isn't quite enough to "get it". And even with repeated recourse to Wiki, I'm still not sure I've quite got it. So either more maths and diagrams or less.

Secondly there is nothing bad said about him. I could just about live with this until I read the authors comments about his wife. There, despite the fact that everyone seems not to have liked her, the author refrains from that conclusion, preferring to question the reliability of the sources of criticism. So I have to conclude that Dr Mahon is rather biased and blind to any faults Maxwell may have had. In the Authors mind it seems Maxwell can do no wrong.

Thirdly most of the notes should have been in the text. All were interesting so no need to relegate them to the end

And lastly I do wish he referred to Maxwell and not to James. I've just read a biography of Einstein and I can't imagine anyone referring to Albert all the way through. So I found "James this" and "James that" way to informal, and rather irritating -- but then that is a personal preference.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book and even better subject 6 Jun 2007
This is an excellent book, well-written, interesting and comprehensive. For many years I have wondered why Maxwell is not ranked along with Einstein and Newton and this book reinforced that opinion. I find historical biographies like this by far the best way to get a good understanding of where we are now and why - much better than the patronising popular science books attempting to convert maths into English. When you see, as this book shows you, the reasons why people like Maxwell were motivated, you can really begin to relate to significance of their work without needing to fully understand the detailed science behind it. Highly recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very decent biography 16 Jan 2008
Probably because he was a more boring person than ill tempered Newton and pacifist Einstein few people know James Clerk Maxwell, but still he completes the threesome of greatest scientists ever for his theory that unified electricity and magnetism into one series of laws, for his contributions to thermodynamics and a host of other things.

No juicy fights then, nor political confrontations, which should not discredit this book. It's just that its subject, however important, is not the most exciting man ever to roam the realm of science. This book matches Maxwell in decency and thoughtfulness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Biography of a Brilliant Thinker 19 July 2010
James Clerk Maxwell is one of the greatest scientists that has ever lived and this book very simply explains why. Basil Mahon has written a biography which covers much of the brilliant thinking of Maxwell and does so in a way that is approachable for the everyday reader. Maxwell's life story and theories are put into historical context and the importance of Maxwell's discoveries are clearly shown. Perhaps because Maxwell was such a decent Christian man and not mired in rivalries or controversies the book is no thriller. However if you want to understand the life and impact of this amazing Scot then this is the book to read.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Electricity and magnetism united 15 April 2010
By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Man Who Changed Everything: The life of James Clerk Maxwell, by Basil Mahon, John Wiley, 2004, 248 ff.

Electricity and magnetism united
By Howard Jones

Maxwell's is not a name that is likely to be as familiar as those of other great scientists we learn about in school: Newton, Boyle, Hooke, Faraday, for example. This may be because following much of Maxwell's work requires university standard mathematics. However, in this fascinating biography that moves through the chapters of his life, this higher mathematics is mostly confined to the Notes.

Maxwell was born in Edinburgh in 1831 and died at Cambridge in 1879 at age only 48. His study of philosophy at Edinburgh University stood him in good stead for his scientific work. He developed a great interest in geology, inspired no doubt by the work of those pioneer Scottish geologists Hutton, Geikie and Lyell. From this interest, Maxwell was one of the first to study glaciers and he invented the seismograph for the measurement of earthquakes. His interest in the properties of polarised light was stimulated by a visit to the workshop of Edinburgh optician, William Nicol. James already had three years at Edinburgh University behind him when he went to Cambridge University at only 19. At Trinity College he came under the tutelage of the famous polymath, William Whewell, as Master of the College. Here, as well as his academic studies, he wrote satirical poetry, `much closer to W.S. Gilbert than Tom Lehrer', as Mahon puts it. This early background is engagingly told by Mahon.

But it is for his papers on electromagnetism that Maxwell is best know.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This man was at least as important as Einstein
James Clerk Maxwell should rank with Charles Darwen, Isaac Newton and slightly above Einstein in the ratings of scientists. Read more
Published 9 months ago by
3.0 out of 5 stars Tantalisingly out of reach
I'm not normally a big fan of reading biographies, but I think that's because, early on in life, I was exposed to some ghost-written autobiographies that were neither illuminating... Read more
Published 16 months ago by S. Meadows
3.0 out of 5 stars It OK
It exlapain in a clear way the life of Sir Maxwell without using an equation. Really interesting also for beginners.
Published 16 months ago by J
4.0 out of 5 stars J C Maxwell The Man who Changed Everything. Book review
Very good and detailed information about the life of the scientist James C Maxwell since he was born until he died . Read more
Published 19 months ago by Xavier
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazingly underrated Scientist
The Man who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon is a wonderful book which outlines not only Maxwell's scientific achievements but his humble inspirational life. Read more
Published 20 months ago by A. Nim
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Brain
This book covers the history of: A man who could take what he saw and work out why it happens and produce the simple equations or rules that, in fact explain the majority of every... Read more
Published on 20 April 2012 by TaffyTiny
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
An interesting insight into the life of a man who seems to have "fallen between the cracks" in terms of the impact he made on modern science which we all take gladly for granted... Read more
Published on 23 Jan 2012 by Boxjarv
4.0 out of 5 stars The man who made waves-James Clerk Maxwell
This is a clearly written biography of Clerk Maxwell and requires no specialist knowledge to understand the significance of his contribution to physics.Recommended!
Published on 25 Nov 2011 by hypercritic
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review of an amazing life
The author fully justifies his aim to show that Clerk Maxwell was the greatest Physicist between Newton and Einstein. Read more
Published on 24 Oct 2011 by albatross
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb biography and history of science
This book describes the life & achievements of James Clerk Maxwell, the man who first identified the relationship between electricity, magnetism & light. Read more
Published on 24 Aug 2011 by Tony Howard
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