Hamilton, James Faraday: The Life

ISBN 13: 9780007329342

Faraday: The Life

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9780007329342: Faraday: The Life

A major biography of Michael Faraday (1791–1867), one of the giants of 19th century science and discoverer of electricity who was at the centre of an extraordinary scientific renaissance in London.

Faraday’s life was truly inspirational. Son of a Yorkshire blacksmith who moved to London in 1789, he was a self-made, self-educated man whose public life was underpinned by his devotion to a minor Christian sect (the Sandemanians) and to his wife. He was also a fine writer and brilliant lecturer.

This book is a passionate exploration of his life, work and times (he was a pioneering scientific all-rounder who also experimented with electromagnetism, techniques for preserving meat and fish, optical glass, the safety lamp, and the identification of iodine as a new element).

It will also tell the story of the dawn of the modern scientific age and interweave Faraday’s life with the groundbreaking work of the Royal Institution and other early scientists like Humphrey Davey, Charles Babbage, John Herschel and Mary Somerville.

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Review:

With his discoveries in electricity, magnetism and other fields Faraday is universally acknowledged as a giant of the 19th century and in this authoritative and lively account, Faraday, James Hamilton explains the nuts and bolts of these discoveries. What is less well known is that Faraday was a self-made, self-educated man who also belonged to a small, and now long-forgotten, fundamentalist Christian sect called the Sandemanians who rose to become a Deacon in the church in 1832, and an Elder in 1840. In fact Sandemanianism was the cornerstone of his life and "the mark against which he measured his conduct, attitudes and relationships" and--despite the fact that Faraday occupied a highly prestigious position at the centre of world science--he remained "submissive to the collective and coercive will of the Elders and the word of God". From a modern 21st century perspective it seems almost incredible that Faraday submitted to such treatment but, as Hamilton makes clear, the influence of Sandemanianism enabled Faraday to exercise incredible self-discipline which, in turn, fed his talent for clarity of thought and explication, while also winning hearts along the way.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the manner of Faraday's rise through the scientific ranks and a major part of the story was his relationship with the most talented and powerfully charismatic scientific figure of the day, Sir Humphrey Davy. The manner in which Faraday gradually overtook Davy as Britain's most celebrated scientist and the personal jealousies and spite that he patiently endured along the way makes for fascinating reading. Hamilton manages to convey the sense of just how important Faraday was to the development of culture in the 19th century, but also how Faraday managed to combineó-though not without severe tension--his dedication to science with a love of art and an obedience to the teachings of the Church. Overall this is a very informative, clearly written and enjoyable read.--Larry Brown

Review:

‘Faraday could not have had a better biographer…comprehensive, lucid, unfailingly intelligent’ Financial Times
‘This lively new biography throws a different, highly illuminating beam on the forces that charged Faraday’s imagination’ Jenny Uglow, Sunday Times
‘Full of rich and fascinating material Hamilton’s biography humanises Faraday, and sets him convincingly in the context of Romanticism’ Lisa Jardine, The Times
‘This exemplary study adds new depth to our understanding of a brilliant and complex man’ The Economist
‘A delightful and well-illustrated account. Few historians of science write as well as Hamilton’ Sunday Telegraph

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Hamilton, James
Published by HARPER COLLINS (2009)
ISBN 10: 0007329342 ISBN 13: 9780007329342
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