Wednesday, July 28, 2010

North Pole South Pole

The epic quest to solve the great mystery of the Earth's magnetism.

By Gillian Turner

This is a non-fiction book that I reviewed for National radio yesterday. It is a history of the steps of discovery that have lead to our modern day understanding of the Earth's magnetic field, and the people behind those discoveries.

I found this an engrossing book and one of the pleasures for me was seeing the contribution some of the historical figures whose names I was familiar with through science and modern day terms and how they made such an impact, Halley, Ampere, Faraday, Volta, Gauss and Joule to name a few. The author does a great job of portraying their character, personal circumstance and influences political and academic. There was some fever pitched competition going on.

The author also portrayed well how the scientific discilines depend upon each other, nothing is separate as we saw the contributions of the astronomers, and the physicists, and mathematicians and other sciences. How magnetism and electricity are so intertwined, and how these discoveries lead to what are now everyday things we take for granted like electric motors, and power generation.

There is a lot of science in the book and it was an advantage to have a science back ground, but it isn't essential as the author has made it accessible to all as she make the science incremental, layering each discovery so you learn as you go. There is also a good glossary, index and some helpful illustrations.

It was fascinating to see how researchers came to the realisation the earths magnetic poles had actually flipped numerous times over history, and tried to induce the significance of this, and how this lead to the discovery of plate tectonics.

I really enjoyed this book and gained a new appreciation of the inter-connectivity of the sciences and and the incredible enquiring minds and brilliance of some of these historical figures.

Go the scientists!


Margot Kinberg said...

Vanda - Oh, sounds intriguing! I've always believed that the scientific disciplines are, as you say, interdependent, so I'm glad that's one of the premises of this book.

Vanda Symon said...

Yes, I found this book most satisfying on many levels.