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Book about the History of Electricity

  1. Dec 23, 2016 #1
    Hi there,

    My name is Kathy and I am writing a book about the history of electrical discoveries. I am writing the book for adults who have limited (or no) science backgrounds with a lot of personal details (like Bose who liked to give electric kisses to attractive women, or Alexander Bell's inspiration from a dead man's ear or…) Anyway, I just found this website and I am super excited to have some help with technical issues (I am a little stuck currently on the history of Radio). I also feel like I could help answer questions on the history of science for others here. So, feel free to ask me about Galvani and Volta or Faraday or what an SOB Morse was. Thanks

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  3. Dec 23, 2016 #2


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    What is your qualification in writing the history of all these people? Do you know them or people close to them personally?

  4. Dec 23, 2016 #3
    Basically, I have no qualifications (aside from degrees in Physics and Engineering)! I feel like I am close to some of them after writing about them but as most of them died 100 to 200 years ago I haven't known any personally. Although, I have to say that the death of Faraday so close to the early death of Maxwell really upset me - so that shows you how mentally unbalanced I am :).

    ps. for a second I thought signing off as Zz meant that you were falling asleep! Then I got it ZapperZ.
  5. Dec 24, 2016 #4


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  6. Dec 24, 2016 #5
    Hi Kathy,

    Don't forget to mention Thales of Militus (an ancient Greek mathematician , philosopher and astronomer) he was the first to observe that a substance that is called "electron" in ancient Greek language (not to be confused with the particle electron but it is pronounced the exact same way in the ancient Greek language) (this substance is known as amber in English language) exhibits electrostatic properties when rubbed.

    (I am Greek also btw hence my suggestion).
  7. Dec 24, 2016 #6


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    For the history after Maxwell, I liked the book


    Maxwell theory as we teach it today in introductory courses is rather due to the work of "the Maxwellians" than due to Maxwell himself, most importantly by Heaviside! It's also interesting to see that the understanding of Maxwell's treatise was much triggered by practical problems "the Maxwellians" as electrical engineers tried to solve (like the propagation of em. waves along telegraph cables in the salty sea water etc.).

    Another remark: I don't think that anyone who writes a biography about someone needs to know the person he describes. That would imply that nobody could write a biography about, e.g., Maxwell today, which is of course not the case.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  8. Dec 24, 2016 #7
  9. Dec 24, 2016 #8
    You will be happy to know that Thales of Militus is the first section of the first chapter. I also talk about the ancient Greek myth of where Amber comes from. I am not Greek but you can't write about electricity without electrik (Amber)!

    Thanks for the suggestion and congratulations on being Greek.


    ps. I thought Greek for Amber was "electrik" not "electron" am I confused?
  10. Dec 24, 2016 #9
    I will look into your link. I feel like poor Oliver Heaviside gets short shift for all of his amazing work. I do mention him but only briefly as my book has more about the experiments then the mathematics. I also like noting that Heaviside was the nephew of Charles Wheatstone who is the "where's Waldo" of my book. Wheatstone invented the English telegraph, was one of three men who said they independently invented using electromagnets in generators, demonstrated a sound machine to a young Alexander Bell that inspired him to build a better one, and chickened out on a Friday speech so that Faraday gave an off the cuff talk about how maybe light was just vibrations of electric and magnetic lines of force. And that is just the stuff that I mention in my book. Whew!

    Anyway, I think that Zz was asking if I had some personal connection to the story not saying that one can only write about people you personally know. Just my interpretation.

    Thanks again for the link to the book.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  11. Dec 24, 2016 #10


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    This book about Marconi is interesting
    and I really (really!) love Nahin's book on Heaviside (although I realize you aren't so interested in him...)
    Nahin's "the science of radio" also has a fair amount of history in the first 1/3 of the book.

    Depending on what type of book you are writing, you may end up using these for their reference lists as much as anything.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  12. Dec 24, 2016 #11


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    possibly interesting:
    "Franklin and Electrostatics - Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner"

    "A history of the theories of aether and electricity : from the age of Descartes to the close of the nineteenth century" Whittaker


    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  13. Dec 24, 2016 #12
    I had read the book on Marconi, very good but the others are new to me - thanks
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  14. Dec 24, 2016 #13
    These all look great! I will try to check them out. I loved this book on Franklin called "Stealing God's Thunder" by Philllip Dray
  15. Dec 25, 2016 #14
    Nice, can't hide it I have to say I am glad and proud as Greek.

    The ancient Greek word for amber is definitely electron not electrik.
  16. Dec 25, 2016 #15


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    You can read Ben Franklin's "Experiments and Observations on Electricity" (published in 1751 from a series of letters to a friend in London) here:


    On page 15, in a letter from 1747, he introduces the terms "positive" and "negative" for electric charge.
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2016
  17. Dec 26, 2016 #16
    Wow! I don't know why I got it confused (about the Greek word for Amber - not about whether you were proud about being Greek)! Thanks for clearing that up.

  18. Dec 26, 2016 #17
    Isn't it amazing that you can just read these things for free from your computer!! I try my best to read the original works by the original scientists and Franklin's letters were one of my favorites. Maybe because he never meant them as a book or formal paper. For the later years I also liked reading the Nobel Prize speeches by JJ Thompson and the paper about Roentgen.

    I have been teaching this stuff for years and it is wild to finally read what the person *themselves* wrote!


  19. Dec 26, 2016 #18
    Hey, do any of you lovely people have any suggestions for a book on the history of TV? Thanks, Kathy
  20. Dec 26, 2016 #19
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