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The Life of Lord Kelvin
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AMS Chelsea Publishing
1976; 1297 pp; hardcover
Volume: 292
ISBN-10: 0-8218-3745-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-3745-0
List Price: US$124 Member Price: US$111.60
Order Code: CHEL/292.H
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An important component of a biography of any great scientist is that the biographer also have deep scientific knowledge. This holds true for Silvanus P. Thompson, a scientist of distinction who authored this biography of Lord Kelvin. Thompson was a Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the Physical Society, President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and President of the Illuminating Engineering Society--all within a six year span. He also held the office of president for other scientific organizations.

This biography was begun in 1906 and published in 1910. It was re-issued in 1976 by Chelsea Publishing. The work is considered the definitive biography of Lord Kelvin. It includes Kelvin's personal recollections and data. His death in 1907 affected the project by extending the scope of the original work. He left letters, diaries, and other documents that supplemented the existing information. These documents would allow Thompson to create a much more comprehensive account of Kelvin's career than was previously possible.

From the Preface by Thompson: "It has been the author's desire to let documents and letters speak as far as possible for themselves; and if he has not always been able to avoid letting his own views tinge these pages, he has at least endeavoured to avoid attributing to others that which is only his own. Doubtless there are many of Lord Kelvin's former pupils who will find gaps in the presentation of his life and character, as must needs be when the author can himself claim no nearer association than that of disciple. But the disciple of one who was himself conspicuously faithful in little things, must at least try to be faithful. The peculiar and affectionate admiration, amounting in some almost to worship, which characterizes those who had the high privilege of that more intimate association, spreads far beyond their circle to the disciple. Let it be hoped that the affectionate admiration which he too shares may not have warped his judgment."

Reviews

"[This book] is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of William Thomson [Lord Kelvin] ...currently available. ...[It is in] a format...understandable for readers without a strong scientific background...[the] writing [is] engaging, his subject matter fascinating, and the combination of the two serve to provide readers with a biography that is both entertaining and informative..[T]his biography deserves a place of honor in every high school and college library."

-- Rochelle Caviness, History in Review

"Both fascinating and illuminating, The Life of Lord Kelvin belongs not only in libraries and high schools and colleges, but also on the bookshelves of everyone interested in science and men of that era. ... Rarely do biographies meet such high aspirations, yet this one does. ... It is pure entertainment, cover to cover. ... (This) is a volume that is not only a pleasure to read, but raises hopes for the future."

-- Current Engineering Practice

Vol. I
• Childhood, and upbringing at Glasgow
• Cambridge
• Post-graduate studies at Paris and Peterhouse
• The Glasgow chair
• The young professor
• Thermodynamics
• The laboratory
• The Atlantic telegraph: failure
• Strenuous years
• The epoch-making treatise
• The Atlantic telegraph: success
• Labour and sorrow
• The geological controversy
• Later telegraphic work: the siphon recorder
Vol. II
• The "Lalla Rookh," the British Association, and the "Hooper"
• In the 'seventies
• Navigation: the compass and the sounding machine
• Gyrostatics and wave motion
• In the 'eighties
• The Baltimore lectures