He's also the man behind your radio, TV, garage-door opener, telephone.... He's James Clerk Maxwell and in the unlikely event you did hear about him, what you were told was probably wrong.
In The Man Who Changed Everything, Basil Mahon provides a straightforward biography of a straightforward man, a Victorian described by his peers as "a perfect Christian gentleman," whose wide-ranging intellect gave us the concise beauty of Maxwell's Equations, linking electricity and magnetism and predicting the existence of radio waves a long generation before anyone intentionally created or detected one.
He was far from the popular image of an eccentric genius (other than, perhaps, his propensity to write light verse to congratulate or, on rare occasion, criticize). Modest and rather unassuming, Maxwell (one really should write "Clerk Maxwell," as the last name passed with a small estate to the second son of the Clerk family in the previous generation) did significant work on color perception and was the first to grasp that colored light was additive and the primary colors for light are thus red, blue and green:* Professor Maxwell is in your TV not once but twice. He was also much of the impetus behind and the first director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge and gave us the first recorded example of the "thought experiment," Maxwell's Demon.
He was a good man, well-liked by peers and students (the latter more in spite of than due to his abilities as an instructor); he died at the age of 48, leaving behind the foundations of a remade world.
(The book can be purchased via the Amazon link at Tam's blog.)
* Pigments -- paint or ink -- are subtractive, with red blue and yellow as primaries. Having got the process right, Maxwell was able to confirm that our color vision relies on only the three primary colors.
2 months ago