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26 September 1991
The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk​ Maxwell 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Cambridge, 748 pp., £125, November 1990, 0 521 25625 9
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... JamesClerkMaxwell, a Scotsman who lived from 1831 to 1879, was a scientist of outstanding stature. Bearing his name, apart from the famous ‘demon’, is the set of fundamental equations that he discovered, governing ...
19 November 1981
James Clerk MaxwellA Biography 
by Ivan Tolstoy.
Canongate, 184 pp., £9.95, July 1981, 9780862410100
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... JamesClerkMaxwell was born in 1831. He held chairs at Aberdeen and London and was the first head of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He died at the early age of 48, leaving behind, as well as much other first ...

Entranced by the Factory

Simon Schaffer: Maxwell’s Demon

29 April 1999
The Natural Philosophy of James Clerk​ Maxwell 
by P.M. Harman.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £35, April 1998, 0 521 56102 7
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... issue, since understanding the Creation might yield principles of ethics as well as mastery of nature. Invited in 1873 to join a new society for metropolitan physicists, the Cambridge professor JamesClerkMaxwell set out in his witty way the practical philosophy of this public science. He thought soirées were like clouds of gas particles: they allowed buttonholing only during the brief if ...
20 February 1986
Wranglers and Physicists: Studies in Cambridge Mathematical Physics in the 19th Century 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Manchester, 261 pp., £27.50, November 1985, 0 7190 1756 4
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... thought. The aim of the contributors is deliberately narrow: ‘the way in which the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge shaped the physics of men such as William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) and JamesClerkMaxwell’. Of course, nobody believes that even Cambridge in the early years of the last century was so inward-looking that the Tripos and Smith’s Prize examinations were the sole influences on ...

Saintly Resonances

Lorraine Daston: Obliterate the self!

31 October 2002
Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England 
by George Levine.
Chicago, 320 pp., £31.50, September 2002, 0 226 47536 0
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... the annals of 19th-century science overflow with testimonies to the powers and pleasures of the body: Alexander von Humboldt (echoed by Darwin) exulting over the sublimities of tropical landscapes, JamesClerkMaxwell affirming the muscular knowledge derived from experiment, dozens of hardy travellers (including Galton) relishing the sights, sounds and smells of exotic locales. The body of the ...

Heat Death

Simon Schaffer: Entropists v. Energeticists

13 April 2000
Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man who Trusted Atoms 
by Carlo Cercignani.
Oxford, 329 pp., £29.50, September 1998, 0 19 850154 4
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... what happened later in physics, but that the puzzles he confronted remain current. The principal puzzle which Boltzmann inherited from his great forbears, the German Rudolf Clausius and the Scotsman JamesClerkMaxwell, was entropy, a term designed to describe the apparently universal and irreversible tendency of heat to become less capable of doing useful work. Thus entropy measured disorder and the ...

Among the Sandemanians

John Hedley Brooke

25 July 1991
Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist 
by Geoffrey Cantor.
Macmillan, 359 pp., £40, May 1991, 0 333 55077 3
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... of us may be his most familiar legacy, and in the physical reality of which he came to believe, were envisaged as permeating all of space. If he was unable to mathematise them, as his great successor JamesClerkMaxwell went on to do, the reason may lie not merely in his mathematical shortcomings but in another deep conviction – that mathematics was not, after all, the appropriate language for ...

Adrenaline Junkie

Jonathan Parry: John Tyndall’s Ascent

21 March 2019
The Ascent of John Tyndall: Victorian Scientist, Mountaineer and Public Intellectual 
by Roland Jackson.
Oxford, 556 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 878895 9
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... and Gladstone. Tyndall was never tempted to take up a professional post outside London, partly because he was unfamiliar with university teaching and research – some academic physicists like JamesClerkMaxwell disparaged his lack of higher mathematics – but mainly because he wanted access to the London social world, with its salons and clubs. London also provided more opportunities to boost his ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig

20 December 1984
The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell​ Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... Like most biographers, Anthony Masters starts by announcing his subject’s date of birth; unlike most biographers, he gets it wrong. Charles Henry Maxwell Knight was born on 9 July 1900, not 4 September, under the sign of Cancer, not Virgo, however tempting it may be, for reasons which become clear in the course of the story, to assign him to the ...

Think like a neutron

Steven Shapin: Fermi’s Paradoxes

24 May 2018
The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age 
by David N. Schwartz.
Basic, 448 pp., £26.99, December 2017, 978 0 465 07292 7
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... there are ‘men who knew too much’ (Robert Hooke, Alan Turing, G.K. Chesterton and, predictably, Alfred Hitchcock) and those whose knowledge ‘changed everything’ (Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, JamesClerkMaxwell). Everything-knowers are admired, though with qualifications: the ‘know-it-all’ is an intellectual bully or a bore, and one thing it’s useful to know is when not to tell everyone ...
25 February 1993
Inside the Firm: The Untold Story of the Krays’ Reign of Terror 
by Tony Lambrianou and Carol Clerk.
Pan, 256 pp., £4.99, October 1992, 0 330 32284 2
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Gangland: London’s Underworld 
by James​ Morton.
Little, Brown, 349 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 356 20889 3
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Nipper: The Story of Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read 
by Leonard Read and James​ Morton.
Warner, 318 pp., £5.99, September 1992, 0 7515 0001 1
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Smash and Grab: Gangsters in the London Underworld 
by Robert Murphy.
Faber, 182 pp., £15.99, February 1993, 0 571 15442 5
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... of second-generation Mafia mufti. The business for the aspiring businessman, the boxer in the boardroom. (A high-profile exemplar of this style was the magnate, George Walker; once, according to James Morton, an ‘ally’ of Billy Hill and Eddie Chapman, later a frequently puffed adornment of the Thatcherite open market culture.) There is nothing new in the concept, quality tailoring bonded over ...
28 May 1992
Understanding the present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Picador, 272 pp., £14.95, May 1992, 0 330 32012 2
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... people seriously following a career in one of the sciences. Even now there are, proportionally, far more good young English-speaking scientists than there were in 1935, let alone in the heyday of ClerkMaxwell or of Newton. It is also my impression, though I’ve never counted, that a striking proportion of the more able scientists have been immigrants or foreigners in the lands where they did ...

In the Châtelet

Jeremy Harding

20 April 1995
François Villon: Complete Poems 
edited by Barbara Sargent-Bauer.
Toronto, 346 pp., £42, January 1995, 0 8020 2946 9
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Basil Bunting: Complete Poems 
edited by Richard Caddel.
Oxford, 226 pp., £10.99, September 1994, 0 19 282282 9
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... six-foot rope, I fear/My neck will know the weight of my rear.’ The other two may also have been written at this time, but if so, after news of the pardon. One is addressed to Etienne Garnier, the clerk of the Châtelet prison, who, as Sargent-Bauer says, seems to have advised Villon against an appeal. ‘What d’you think of my appeal, / Garnier?’ Did the clerk really think Villon hadn’t ...

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