Monday, January 22, 2007

Review of Williams' The Origins of Field Theory

L. Pearce Williams' The Origins of Field Theory is a good book on the history of how Field Theory in physics grew from its Newtonian beginnings to it form in Maxwell's equations. The Newtonian model is nicely laid out. Then it moves on to a discussion of electromagnetism using the naturalphilosophie of the time, especially the Kantian critique of Newton. (This was a lot more important than I had realized) Schelling's critique and then Oersted's contributions are then addressed. Finally, we come to the hero of Field Theory - Faraday. Faraday's electrostatic and magnetic lines of force, and their difficult births and acceptance, make up a good chunk of the book. It then concludes with a discussion of Maxwell famous synthesis and mathematization of Faraday's work which ultimately turned it in to the Orthodoxy of its time.
It was a good read. There were a few places I wish the author would have spent a bit more time working out the experiments for us. I forgot what some the apparatus that Faraday used was like. But beside this, it is a good simple read if you are interested in this sort of thing. There are practically no equations or anything to scare away the intelligent curious layperson, like me.

1 comment:

Shosh said...

You seem like a guy who'd be good with equations.