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on 6 December 2014
I'd thoroughly recommend this biography of one of the greats of Physics - James Clerk Maxwell. Mahon writes in a lively and engaging manor, bringing his subject alive with details of his life and work. Anecdotes give a flavour of Maxwell's joking and mischievous character, and Mahon gives a good overview of Maxwell's huge and far-reaching contributions to our understanding of nature.
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on 13 November 2014
This little book takes us through the life story of one of the greatest physicists of all time. There is very little technical content in it and some could view this as a downside but it must be said that this was not the intention of the author; rather it was to convey the human story behind the scientist and this he does very well.
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on 28 March 2010
This book is one of the best scientific biographies I have ever read. It is a thrilling account of the work of one of the world's greatest scientists. His discoveries are beautifully described in language that a non-scientist can follow (most of the time!) and are set in the context of his life and times. It is the kind of book that is hard not to read in one sitting. We should be grateful to the author for so vividly making Clerk Maxwell's unique contributions to knowledge available to us all.
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on 5 February 2011
Excellent book, supurbly written. The story of a man who cemented one of the pillars of which all modern science rests upon.
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on 24 August 2011
This book describes the life & achievements of James Clerk Maxwell, the man who first identified the relationship between electricity, magnetism & light. He was the first to demonstrate mathematically that electricity, magnetism and light are all manifestations of the same phenomenon; the electromagnetic field - with electromagnetic waves. This is regarded by many as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time; ranking him with Newton, Faraday & Einstein.

Mahon's book is extremely well written and is at times hard to put down; this despite his explanations of some very sophisticated physics & mathematics, which he achieves with clarity. Maxwell's life, personality, relationships and achievements are described chronologically; schooling in Scotland, university education in Edinburgh & Cambridge and academic posts beginning and ending at Cambridge. He was a lifelong friend of both William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) and P G Tait; the three regularly exchanging ideas. Maxwell was a gentle caring and religious man with a mischievous though never cruel sense of humour. Although the author devotes a good deal of his text to describing these endearing aspects of Maxwell's life, it is his enormous scientific and engineering achievements which shine through.

In addition to his achievements in electromagnetism, Maxwell proposed the first ever statistical law in physics; that is the Maxwell distribution of molecular velocities, the first & perhaps the most inspired step towards the development of statistical thermodynamics and the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution or molecular energies, which is so important in understanding for example the relationship between temperature and vapour pressure. This alone, without his electromagnetic theory, would be sufficient to mark him as `an all time great' of science. However, there was much more!

James also determined the conditions under which Saturn's rings would be stable which won him Cambridge's Adams Prize and the accolade from the Astronomer Royal that his work was one of the most remarkable applications of mathematics to physics that he had ever seen.

Maxwell demonstrated the principle by which we see colours and took the world's first colour photograph; he wrote a paper which became the basis of modern control theory; he used polarized light to reveal strain patterns in structure and invented a powerful graphical method for calculating the forces in any framework, techniques which became standard engineering practice.

Perhaps most importantly, with the development of his theories on for example electromagnetic fields, perception of colour and statistical mechanics, Maxwell started a revolution in the way physicists look at the world. He began to think that the objects and forces that we see are only our limited perception of an underlying truth that we cannot understand but can describe mathematically.

Our author claims that `It is sometimes said, with no more than slight overstatement that if you trace every line of modern physical research to its starting point you come back to Maxwell'. CA Coulson said of Maxwell, that `there is scarcely a single topic that he touched upon which he did not change almost beyond recognition.' Albert Einstein said `one scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell'.

James Clerk Maxwell really was `The man who changed everything'; at least in physics. Mahon's book is first rate as a biography, as a history of science and as a compelling read: five stars of course.
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on 19 October 2006
This is a fine book. In just 185 pages Basil Mahon portrays both the qualities of the man and the scale of his achievements. The writing is of a high standard and the great range of science is presented succinctly and with great clarity.
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on 20 April 2012
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 day things - that we do not easily understand - hence an amazing brain as opposed to an amazon brain - sorry!
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on 9 March 2011
The facts of the investigative work by Maxwell are well known in the scientific community. The Kings College building in central London is named after him, even though he was there for only a few years. The author researched his life well enough to give a personal impact on the reader, which I enjoyed. This book puts his work into the framework of his life in a very illuminating manner. My only critique is that some of the schematics explaining Maxwell's concepts are lacking in clarity. I think it is a good book for anyone who has had a high school or college course in the physical sciences---one can appreciate the dedication, detail, and brilliance he embodied in his work.
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on 24 October 2011
The author fully justifies his aim to show that Clerk Maxwell was the greatest Physicist between Newton and Einstein. All the many contributions made by C/M in his too brief life are covered. The Mathematics is kept to the minimum. A very well written and readable account.
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on 26 July 2011
A fantastic book on the life of the great Maxwell, that thanks to his discoveries, changed radically the approach to the physics and our's everyday life.
Since I'm Italian, i found it without a too hard English, it's pleasant to read and it passes emotions, the same that James wanted to arouse in his students.
It's really interesting to see the reasoning under the explaining of his theories. Even if it's technically and physically accessible, to fully understand it it's necessary a minimum predisposition to the scientific reasoning and, maybe, a some math.
I suggest and i wish to everyone to read it.
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