Cover image for The philosopher's tree : a selection of Michael Faraday's writings
The philosopher's tree : a selection of Michael Faraday's writings
Faraday, Michael, 1791-1867.
Publication Information:
Bristol, UK ; Philadelphia : Institute of Physics Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 211 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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Format :


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QC16.F2 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Michael Faraday's social origins, his thought processes, his methods of experimentation, and his religion have all been subjects of exhaustive analysis by historians and philosophers of science. One aspect of his work, which provides unique insight into his career path and the way in which his mind worked, has not received much emphasis outside the realm of academic professionals: namely, his writing. The Philosopher's Tree: Michael Faraday's Life and Work in His Own Words is an illustrated anthology of Faraday's writings compiled with commentary by Professor Peter Day, the director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

From when he was a teenage apprentice bookbinder until his final resignation from the Royal Institution due to failing memory, Faraday wrote voluminously and his output took many forms. Apart from letters, Faraday kept journals (both scientific and personal); as a practicing scientist, he wrote articles in learned journals; as an adviser to the government and to many other agencies, he wrote reports; and as a supremely successful communicator (especially to young people), he left lecture notes and transcripts. All of these writings add life, color, and depth of focus to the stereotypical scientific colossus. Although Faraday's life was largely lived within what might appear to be very narrow geographical confines (just a few miles around 21 Albemarle Street in London's West End), his professional, social, and family relationships were extensive and diverse, and his responses to them equally complex. Through all the forms of expression that his multifaceted career required of him, one fact shines clearly: not only is Faraday one of the world greatest scientists, he showed enviable quality as a writer.

Author Notes

Michael Faraday, a British physicist and chemist, was one of the greatest experimentalists of the nineteenth century. The son of a blacksmith, Faraday received a minimal education, which did not include much training in mathematics. Nevertheless, in 1812 his innate intelligence attracted the attention of Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution. Davy hired Faraday as a laboratory assistant in the institution; Faraday remained until his retirement in 1862. Here, he made his contributions to the study of electricity by formulating the laws of electrolysis in 1834.

Faraday also discovered that the circular lines of magnetic force produced by the flow of current through a wire deflect a nearby compass needle. By demonstrating this conversion of electrical energy into motive force, Faraday identified the basic principles governing the application of the electric motor. Simultaneously with Joseph Henry, Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction and then successfully built the first electric generator based on a suggestion from Scottish mathematician and physicist Lord William Thomson Kelvin.

After a series of experiments using polarized light, Faraday proposed an electromagnetic theory of light. This theory was later developed by James Clerk Maxwell and was fundamental to the later development of physics. Faraday was widely known as a popularizer of science, regularly lecturing to lay audiences from 1825 to 1862.

Faraday was an extremely modest person. For example, he declined honors bestowed in recognition of his accomplishments, such as a knighthood and the presidency of the Royal Society.

(Bowker Author Biography)