Hidden Attraction: The History and Mystery of Magnetism

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9780195064889: Hidden Attraction: The History and Mystery of Magnetism

Long one of nature's most fascinating phenomena, magnetism was once the subject of many superstitions. Magnets were thought useful to thieves, effective as a love potion or as a cure for gout or spasms. They could remove sorcery from women and put demons to flight and even reconcile married couples. It was said that a lodestone pickled in the salt of sucking fish had the power to attract gold. Today, these beliefs have been put aside, but magnetism is no less remarkable for our modern understanding of it. In Hidden Attraction, Gerrit L. Verschuur, a noted astronomer and National Book Award nominee for The Invisible Universe, traces the history of our fascination with magnetism, from the first discovery of magnets in Greece, to state-of-the-art theories that see magnetism as a basic force in the universe.
The book begins with the early debunking of superstitions by Peter Peregrinus (Pierre de Maricourt), whom Roger Bacon hailed as one of the world's first experimental scientists (Perigrinus held that "experience rather than argument is the basis of certainty in science"). Verschuur discusses William Gilbert, who confronted the multitude of superstitions about lodestones in De Magnete, widely regarded as the first true work of modern science, in which Gilbert reported his greatest insight: that the earth itself was magnetic. We also meet Hans Christian Oersted, who demonstrated that an electric current could influence a magnet (Oersted did this for the first time during a public lecture) and Andre-Marie Ampere, who showed that a current actually produced magnetism. Verschuur also examines the pioneering experiments and theoretical breakthroughs of Faraday and Maxwell and Zeeman (who demonstrated the relationship between light and magnetism), and he includes many lively stories of discovery, such as the use of frogs by Galvani and Volta, and Hertz's accidental discovery of radio waves. Along the way, we learn many interesting scientific facts, perhaps the most remarkable of which is that lodestones are made by bacteria (a sediment organism known as GS-15 eats iron, converting ferric oxide to magnetite and, over billions of years, forming the magnetite layers in iron formations).
Boasting many informative illustrations, this is an adventure of the mind, using the specific phenomenon of magnetism to show how we have moved from an era of superstitions to one in which the Theory of Everything looms on the horizon.

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About the Author:


About the Author:
Gerrit L. Verschuur is Research Professor of Astronomy at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee, and contributing editor of Air and Space Magazine. He has written numerous popular science articles, as well as eight previous books.

Review:

"Magnetic attraction has long fascinated humanity. While early beliefs about magnetism were dominated by superstition, the progressive understanding of this phenomenon paralleled the maturation of the physical sciences. This is the only popular book available on the subject."--Library Journal

"Verschuur provides more than bookends of familiar science history, with flourish and style demonstrating the hidden attraction that pulls us ever closer to the central mystery of the universe."--Publishers Weekly

"Magnetism has invaded our lives in ways that range from direction-finding, to quack medicine, to communications. Yet its effects go far beyond everyday experience, even to the very fabric of the cosmos. Verschuur's Hidden Attraction is more than a long-overdue modern history of this magical force. It shows how superstition was replaced by experimentation and ultimately by a paradigm. Through Verschuur's splendid prose, you can see science growing itself."--Leif J. Robinson, Editor/Publisher, Sky and Telescope

"Gerrit L. Verschuur is one of my favorite astronomy writers, and his new book finds him branching in new directions. One of Verschuur's most appealing traits is his appreciation of history. He knows that scientific ideas don't emerge in a vacuum."--San Francisco Examiner

"Fascinating....The story of discovery enlivened by an interspersion of details about the lives of the scientists and of their individual and collective achievements....Well-written and enticing."--Booklist

"Verschuur sprinkles his text with fascinating anecdotes and well-chosen illustrations....An entertaining, informative history that doubles as a solid guide to the nature of magnetism and electricty."--Kirkus Reviews

"The sweep of Verschuur's story is breathtaking." --Peter Day (The Royal Institution, London), Physics Today

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