• Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon

  • The Life and Science of James Clerk Maxwell
  • By: Brian Clegg
  • Narrated by: Simon Mattacks
  • Length: 7 hrs and 8 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (341 ratings)

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Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon  By  cover art

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon

By: Brian Clegg
Narrated by: Simon Mattacks
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Publisher's summary

Asked to name a great physicist, most people would mention Newton or Einstein, Feynman or Hawking. But ask a physicist and there’s no doubt that James Clerk Maxwell will be near the top of the list. 

Maxwell, an unassuming Victorian Scotsman, explained how we perceive color. He uncovered the way gases behave. And, most significantly, he transformed the way physics was undertaken in his explanation of the interaction of electricity and magnetism, revealing the nature of light and laying the groundwork for everything from Einstein’s special relativity to modern electronics. 

Along the way, he set up one of the most enduring challenges in physics, one that has taxed the best minds ever since. "Maxwell’s demon" is a tiny but thoroughly disruptive thought experiment that suggests the second law of thermodynamics, the law that governs the flow of time itself, can be broken. This is the story of a groundbreaking scientist, a great contributor to our understanding of the way the world works, and his duplicitous demon.

©2019 by Brian Clegg. (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

What listeners say about Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Science writing done right

In 2018, I read The Hunt for Vulcan and it was one of the top reads of the year. It was the story of how scientists discovered Uranus, Neptune, and tried to discover Vulcan before Einstein put an end to that silly idea. This one was similar in style, except that I’m embarrassed to say that this one is a lot harder to follow along with. I’ve never had a firm grasp on magnetism or electricity, so a lot of the technical details went over my head. Actually, I think the author did a good job of dumbing it down, I just need to have a firmer grasp.
Long story short, Faraday was Maxwell’s hero and Faraday found that there was a connection between magnetism and electricity. Maxwell is regarded as one of the greatest scientists in history because he pulled the magic trick that all scientists are constantly trying to pull- unify disparate natural phenomena with a simple equation. This is what Maxwell did with magnetism and electricity, and it took a combination of expertise in math and physics. The physicists of the day couldn’t understand it because it was too math based and mathematicians couldn’t understand it because it was too physics based. Hence, we have a genius on our hands.
The author pulls the interesting trick of making Maxwell’s demon the narrator of the story. It’s a quirky idea, but I’m still not completely sure about what Maxwell’s demon is, besides the fact that he likes to make fun of the miniscule understanding of humans. What I got from this book is that Maxwell’s demon has the appearance of reversing entropy in unpredictable ways. I still don’t have the whole story about why this is important or how it connects to everything else, but you can only do so much in one book. First, I’m going to do some reading about magnetism, electricity, and the second law of thermodynamics. Then I’m going to read this one again. That annoying little demon is taunting me.

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35 people found this helpful

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Required Heading

Second time to write this, first time it mysteriously disappeared just as I was about to finish!

I didn't fully appreciate the key role of two charged plates (a capacitor) and displacement current in the formulation of Maxwell's "Four Beautiful Equations" before listening to this book.

The personalization of Maxwell's Demon I thought was perfectly consistent with the author's portrayal of Maxwell's whimsical streak, although at least one reviewer here was put off by it.

Finally, a gaff: the narrator read Boltzmann's famous definition of entropy using 1-n, instead of the abbreviation for natural logarithm, ln. Who hasn't accidently swapped a 1 for a lower case ell, or an O for a zero, who uses mathematics?

Anyway, much enjoyed this, and glad to see this key figure in science described as a real human being.

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12 people found this helpful

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Biography With a Twist

A peek into 19th Century scientific life (and its evolution), and a biography of Maxwell, as told by his demon (the twist).

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8 people found this helpful

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Great biography, well read, would listen again

Great foray into the life of an enormously influential physicist. I am an electrical engineer and I learned things about Maxwell I didn't know. Splendid book.

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8 people found this helpful

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The Dawn of Modern Science

This is a biography of Maxwell, whose unification of electricity and magnetism marks the end of the era of classical physics and the beginning of modern era. It works as: biography, science history and cultural history. It is a requirement for anyone aspiring to cultural literacy. A bonus is that it’s an easy and entertaining read.

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8 people found this helpful

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Good book about the life and work of Maxwell.

Very well written book. Very original way to tell the story. It is a biography and high level explanation of Maxwell 's work.

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8 people found this helpful

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Edutainment at its best

Having Maxwell’s demon narrate his biography just works. The story telling proceeds at a lively pace, never slowing down, as you would not expect that from a demon.

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7 people found this helpful

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Breathtaking

Captivating and Informative, this amazing book is delights in so many ways...Get this book. You will not be disappointed

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Lost the last ten minutes.

The recording just stopped with ten minutes left to go. A pity. Good story though.

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1 person found this helpful

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Another unknown hero finally recognized

Not to minimalize names like Einstein or Newton or hawking, but there are so many GREAT people in science and history that never get known in the household way that the afore mentioned do, who deserve as much or in some cases even MORE recognition than the afore mentioned. This is one of them. Everyone should already know this man's name.

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