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Entranced by the Factory

Simon Schaffer: Maxwell’s Demon, 29 April 1999

The Natural Philosophy of James Clerk Maxwell 
by P.M. Harman.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £35, April 1998, 0 521 56102 7
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... deliberately insulated from the highly-charged milieux of the Age of Steam, Soap and Steel. Peter Harman’s new book tries to demonstrate how much metaphysics mattered in the everyday labours of Victorian Britain’s greatest mathematical physicist. Comparisons are odious, but league-tables are another feature of the public life of contemporary science. A ...

Out of a job in Aberdeen

Roger Penrose, 26 September 1991

The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Cambridge, 748 pp., £125, November 1990, 0 521 25625 9
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... James Clerk Maxwell, a Scotsman who lived from 1831 to 1879, was a scientist of outstanding stature. Bearing his name, apart from the famous ‘demon’, is the set of fundamental equations that he discovered, governing the behaviour of electricity, magnetism and light. He also found, among many other things, the basic equation for the distribution of velocities of the molecules in a gas in equilibrium, and made other profound contributions to the statistical study of the molecules in a gas, relating to the Second Law of thermodynamics – which is what Maxwell’s ‘demon’ was all about ...

Goodbye to the Aether

Brian Pippard, 20 February 1986

Wranglers and Physicists: Studies in Cambridge Mathematical Physics in the 19th Century 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Manchester, 261 pp., £27.50, November 1985, 0 7190 1756 4
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... Sir Edmund Whittaker’s History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity first appeared in 1910, and is mentioned at the very start of the book under review, though never again. The scope of Whittaker’s book is wide, its material densely organised, but it is a pleasure to read. Whittaker was a stylish writer and a distinguished thinker. Was it really necessary to go over part of this ground again in so much more detail? Unfortunately, there is good reason for doing so, if only because Whittaker did just this when, forty years later at the age of 78, he expanded his original history and added a second volume which was concerned with developments since 1900 ...

Diary

Joanna Biggs: Abortion in Northern Ireland, 17 August 2017

... feminists can’t rely on Westminster: many people reminded me of the moment in 2008 when Harriet Harman blocked a move to extend the 1967 act to Northern Ireland in order to gain votes from the DUP for 42-day detention of terrorism suspects. If it makes travel to England harder, Brexit will make access to abortion harder too. Irish customs routinely ...

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