Degrees Kelvin:

Degrees Kelvin:

A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy (2004)

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392 pages | 6 x 9

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PDF Full Book
392 pages | 6 x 9

Degrees Kelvin:

A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy (2004)

Contractual obligations prohibit us from offering a free PDF of this title published under the Joseph Henry Press imprint of the National Academies Press.

The views expressed in this book are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academies.

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  • Reviews


David Lindley

Suggested Citation

Degrees Kelvin: A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.

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"...a lively biography of a brilliant man. Through newspaper accounts, letters and personal recollections, Lindley brings to vibrant life Thomson's large family, his days at Cambridge University and the travails of young people seeking their way in a 19th-century world. Above all, Lindley shows us an era in which people looked optimistically to technology and science as powerful tools to transform the world. ... Rich in detail and personal account, Lindley's book is also strewn with clear descriptions of the science that defined Lord Kelvin's day. ... Degrees Kelvin offers a terrific journey through that era of discovery."
-- San Diego Union Tribune, February 29, 2004

"[Lindley] brings Kelvin to life in this excellent biography."
-- Scientific American, April 2004

"Degrees Kelvin is a lovely book, and also a most welcome one. ... Any list of all-time great physicists will include a large number of [Kelvin's] contemporaries, and Thomson stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them. Physicist and writer David Lindley offers nonspecialists an engaging and informative account of Thomson's personal life and scientific career. ... An enjoyable aspect of Lindley's account is that in the course of placing Thomson's life and work in context, he introduces readers to several of his subject's illustrious contemporaries and their work."
-- Science, September 3, 2004

"A lively, well-written biography of William Thomson. ... Lindley provides a lucid account of [Thomson's accomplishments] and also gives us a feel for Thomson's mental habits and character. ... A splendid book."
-- Physics Today, March 2005

"Lindley deftly interweaves accounts of Thomson's scientific career, his relations with his contemporaries, and his personal life, always cocking an eye to the larger historical picture. Sympathetic study of a man whose achievements were overshadowed by his inability to understand how science was changing."
-- Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2003

"In his thoroughly engaging biography, Lindley expertly examines Kelvin's life and the thought processes of this mathematical genius as well as providing a rich overview of physics as it was created from what had been known as 'natural philosophy.' Lindley also does a superb job of explaining how, over the course of his life and by sticking to his basic scientific principles, Kelvin changed from an extraordinarily creative theoretician, in both the pure and the applied realms, to a scientific anachronism, defending outmoded ideas and refusing to accept new concepts. Lindley provides insight into a misunderstood scientific legend and into the process of science itself at a critical period of history."
-- Publishers Weekly, December 22, 2003

"...a fine survey of Lord Kelvin's life for a general audience. ... Lindley's story of this remarkable life goes admirably beyond the ideas of science and engineering to reveal much of the day-to-day Kelvin. ... Lindley does a splendid job of explaining the scientific and technological concepts for a general audience..."
-- Nature, April 22, 2004

"Lindley looks to revive some of Kelvin's legacy and eloquently does so while explaining the scientific principles that Kelvin discovered."
-- Science News, April 17, 2004

"[Kelvin's] story [is] superbly told by David Lindley ... A fascinating biography."
-- The Chapel Hill News, January 12, 2005

"...a book of considerable charm, while also presenting a very well-rounded portrait of a most Victorian, talented, complex individual of mixed achievement. ... As a book that gives pleasure to the reader I recommend it highly. ...I guarantee that you will enjoy this book, which not only thoroughly explores [Kelvin's] life but offers as well a brilliant picture of the physics world of the late Nineteenth and very early Twentieth century."
-- Benjamin Bederson in the History of Physics Newsletter, Fall 2004

"[Lindley] convinces his readers that Kelvin's career of vociferous opinions and peripatetic activity was a life of great contributions and personal satisfaction. ... [Lindley has a] talent and passion for bringing science to the layman."
-- Chemical & Engineering News, August 30, 2004

"In Degrees Kelvin, David Lindley seeks to reconcile two pictures of Lord Kelvin -- the famous, brilliant quick-witted physicist and the crank. With a rare combination of insight and technical understanding, Lindley eventually produces a picture of Kelvin that is clear about both Kelvin's strengths and his weaknesses. Kelvin's prominent role in the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cables gives the reader an excellent vantage point on one of the greatest technical achievements of the nineteenth century. The combination of skullduggery and physics is irresistible, and Lindley ably sketches the other characters involved in the project. ...the author produces an entertaining picture of both the man and his times. A book about a physicist would be incomplete without physics, and Lindley is in his element when describing Kelvin's theories, their genesis and their impact. He provides enough detail to be interesting without being overwhelming to those who lack Lindley's specialist background. The result is a book that is engaging, illuminating..."
-- Curled Up With a Good Book, May 2004

"Lindley's account of Thomson's life and career alternates in the telling between discussions of science and of personality. The former will be appreciated by readers with some scientific background... There are, too, rewarding accounts of the various luminaries with whom Thomson came into contact, such as the autodidact Michael Faraday (whose accomplishments and personality have clearly impressed the author). ... [Kelvin] seems to have been a wholly fascinating figure, and Lindley does a service in making his story available to readers."
-- book blog reviews, August 14, 2004

"...a detailed, clear account of Thomson's scientific and engineering works. ... This biography is a good read with a lively pace, especially in the technical descriptions and explanations."
-- History: Reviews of New Books, Summer 2004

"[Thomson's] intellectual foibles, as well as Thomson's publicly visible work on the first transatlantic telegraph, furnish the raw material that a good biographer can make interesting. This Lindley is, and does. Supremely self-confident, Thomson, in Lindley s portrait, takes shape as remarkably inventive but unable to detach himself from a classical, mechanistic view, which the younger generation of physicists were able to do. Wherever science biographies are popular, Lindley's perceptive work will be, too."
-- Booklist, February 1, 2004

"...Lindley's book reconciles all the facets of Kelvin's personal and professional life, from brilliant forward-thinker to engineer to opinionated old man, and gives an insightful account of the career of this 19th century scientific hero."
-- FTL Design: History of the Atlantic Cable and & Submarine Telegraphy

"Having achieved some acclaim for [his earlier science books], Lindley -- an astrophysicist by training -- will certainly receive more with this latest effort. ... Understandable to the informed reader, this work will deepen science students' appreciation of the individual behind the science they are learning."
-- Library Journal, February 1, 2004

"...[a] brilliantly developed biography...[Degrees Kelvin] is the fall of a brilliant life told compellingly and compassionately by an entertaining and convincing storyteller."
-- ForeWord Magazine, March/April 2004

"...[an] accessibly written biography..."
-- Book News, June 2004

"...Mr. Lindley's scholarship is impressive..."
-- The Washington Times, February 22, 2004

"Mr. Lindley has written well of a 19th-century man baffled by scientific developments that became crucial to the 20th century."
-- Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2004

"As Lindley impressively shows, Thomson thought incessantly and productively. ... Lindley treats with lucid precision Thomson's part in scientific debates and projects of the time. ... Lindley thoughtfully evaluates the 'tragedy': Thomson's decline into relative obscurity."
-- Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2004

"David Lindley has done a superb job telling the fascinating story of Lord Kelvin, and has produced one of the most interesting scientist biographies ever written. Excellent book. Very well written."
-- Amir D. Aczel, author of Pendulum: Leon Foucault and the Triumph of Science and Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem

"Lord Kelvin had one of the greatest scientific minds of the 19th century and Degrees Kelvin is a first rate biography of him and his world."
-- John Steele Gordon, author of A Thread Across the Ocean

"...Lindley presents this history well and compactly. ... a good, fairly quick introduction to Lord Kelvin and his major contributions (and mistakes)."
-- Complete Reviews, April 2004

"[Lord Kelvin] seems to have been a wholly fascinating figure, and Lindley does a service in making his story available to readers."
-- Reviewer's Bookwatch, September 2004

"This is a noble attempt to resurrect the posthumous reputation of a great scientist from the oblivion to which he has been unfairly consigned. If it can also explain the concept of Absolute Zero to a confirmed non-scientist such as myself, it deserves to succeed."
-- Daily Mail, September 10, 2004