Friday, January 20, 2012

Science Friday: Maxwell

I have been reading from a biography of James Clerk Maxwell. He was by most accounts the most important scientist of the 1800's, whose work with electricity and magnetism more than anyone else opened the door for the radio, television, cell phones, etc.  The book I'm reading is The Man Who Changed Everything.

Unfortunately, today I have little to say but that I am giving notice that I'm reading the book.  I'm up to about the point where he goes to college.  He's about 16 and has had a paper presented for him (he wasn't considered old enough to read it himself) on making ellipse shapes in new ways by tying the strings around the foci differently.

The author, Basil Mahon's style gnaws at me a little because it reminds me of a certain style that is too flattering. In ancient biography, for example, there was a sense that if a person became great, there must have been great signs of this destiny in childhood. Mahon just feels like he's grasping at greatness in childhood sometimes, maybe even glossing over weaknesses.

We all know Maxwell turned out to be brilliant and a nice guy. That doesn't mean he had to be perfect or great as a child. He sounds like a fairly normal, upper class Scottish kid of the time to me.

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