Turner: A Life

A LIFE OF DISCOVERY: Michael Faraday, Giant of the Scientific Revolution

James Hamilton, Author
James Hamilton, Author . Random $35 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6016-0
Reviewed on: 11/29/2004
Release date: 12/01/2004

When an art historian writes a biography of the leading scientific figure of 19th-century England, the focus is likely to be broader than science. Hamilton (Turner: A Life ), an art curator at the University of Birmingham in England, does use a wide-angle lens in this vivid look at the man who helped establish the laws of electromagnetism. He argues persuasively that the cultural gap between art and science—so clear today—had not yet formed during Faraday's lifetime (1791–1867), and that Faraday played a significant role in bringing intellectuals of all persuasions together. Hamilton mines numerous other biographies, the voluminous research notes left by Faraday, as well as ample correspondence by and to the scientist to dramatize Faraday's amazing rise from a poorly educated bookbinder's apprentice to a world-renowned scientist and science educator (he was a hugely popular lecturer). Hamilton explores the role of Faraday's religious faith (he belonged to the small, rigid Sandemanian sect of Christianity) and his friendships with artists of the time. What one won't gain here is a deep understanding of Faraday's scientific discoveries. But scientifically knowledgeable readers will gain an appreciation of what broader intellectual life was like during this critical period. 8 pages of photos, one map not seen by PW . Agent, Anderson/Grinberg Agency. (On sale Dec. 7)