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on 26 May 2017
Interesting review of a very interesting man
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on 17 July 2014
This is a superb biography on one of the most important mathematical physisists. He ranks alongside Einstien and Newton yet very few people have heard of him (I only knew of him because he was chair of Natural Philosophyat my alma mater. The book is well written and covers much more than just his achievements (which would be a good sized book in its self ranging from the first durable colour photograph to the theory of electromagnetism) but fills in the man's character. A good interesting read. Would recommend it to anyone
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on 10 July 2011
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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on 9 December 2016
Okay, but not that well written - quite a clunky old-school style.

Compares poorly to books like The Strangest Man: Dirac ... by Graham Farmelo or Quantum Man: Feynman ... by Lawrence Krauss
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on 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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on 24 February 2016
Parts of this I found to be very interesting and, although the language is not so inspiring, the author is someone who is clearly someone who is passionate about the subject matter. Unfortunately, there are plenty of passages that read a bit like a text book which is perhaps an inevitable by-product of trying to relate the genius of Maxwell. If the reader is not of that mind, then the maths or even just the logic behind it is quite daunting and off-putting. I had to give up on this book as I found the maths too involved and I just wanted to read about his life. Of course, you can't separate the two aspects and one might say his equations and thinking was his life. This is a good book but just not very readable in places.
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on 18 September 2012
Very good and detailed information about the life of the scientist James C Maxwell since he was born until he died . The book also describes the discoveries he made about electricity and electromagnetism ,and the postulation of its mathematical equations.
Also narrates how he found out his famous equation which correlates the speed of light with the velocity of electromagnetic waves . Einstein was also inspired in this equation to postulate the theory of relativity and his famous equation correlating mass and energy with the speed of light .
This book must be read by anyone interested in the history and fundamentals of electricity and electromagnetism .
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on 6 June 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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on 16 January 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 April 2010
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. The fact that charges and magnets act on one another through space gave rise to two theories - the `action-at-a-distance', like gravity, favoured by Newton, and the `lines-of-force' theory advocated by Faraday. Maxwell resolved this controversy in favour of the latter. He also worked on diffusion in gases and a mathematical study of the nature of Saturn's rings, so the electromagnetic equations are only the most significant of his studies in a number of different fields of science. He helped to found the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge and he was a friend of Faraday's and also of William Thomson (later, Lord Kelvin).

This is an interesting, informative and highly readable biography, though as it deals with some quite difficult scientific concepts, some background in maths and science is undoubtedly an advantage in getting the most out of it. There is perhaps too much room devoted to Maxwell's uninspiring poetry, but the book has a Chronology of Maxwell's life, a short Bibliography of related books, a couple of dozen pages of additional Notes, which include some of the more mathematically difficult stuff, and a good, detailed Index.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, U.K.

The Electric Life of Michael Faraday
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