cover image The Spinning Magnet: The Force That Created the Modern World—and Could Destroy It

The Spinning Magnet: The Force That Created the Modern World—and Could Destroy It

Alanna Mitchell. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-98516-8

Canadian science journalist Mitchell (Sea Sick) investigates critical yet little-discussed concerns for the future of our world in this narrative history of magnetism and study of periodical changes in Earth’s magnetic field. She begins with some giant steps through time to explain magnetism, starting with the big bang and running up to 19th-century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s epic mathematical equations that show how electricity, magnetism, and light are all aspects of one another. The historical background is braided with scenes from Mitchell’s quest to find the rocks that French physicist Bernard Brunhes used to prove that Earth’s magnetic poles have periodically switched places. In the latter half of the book, Mitchell examines evidence that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening—which indicates an upcoming pole shift—and explains the potential effects of such a shift on life around the globe, including electrical grids’ increased vulnerability to solar storms and harm to animals that rely on magnetism for navigation. Mitchell’s nontechnical discussion is substantively accessible, and her vivid writing holds the reader’s attention. Occasionally, elements of the narrative can be hard to follow, and diagrams and figures would have been helpful in clarifying the more complex ideas. Pop science readers and science policy wonks will find plenty to think—and worry—about here. Agent: Ron Eckel, Cooke Agency (Canada). (Jan.)