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The Life and Science of Léon Foucault

The Life and Science of Léon Foucault
The Man who Proved the Earth Rotates

Out of Print

  • Author: William Tobin, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Date Published: November 2003
  • availability: Unavailable - out of print December 2008
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521808552

Out of Print

Unavailable - out of print December 2008
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About the Authors
  • Léon Foucault's name is synonymous with his famous pendulum experiment, which proved to all that the Earth rotated. This illustrated biography traces the life and achievements of one of the last great amateur scientists. His contributions to science went well beyond his pendulum--the gyroscope; laboratory measurements of the speed of light; and the invention of methods to make perfect optical surfaces.

    • Explains the underlying physics in simple terms, giving a comprehensive and definitive account of Foucault's achievements
    • Highly illustrated with contemporary engravings, photographs and explanatory drawings
    • Abundant quotations make the book accessible and easy to read
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "...Tobin does an admirable job, clearly explaining in a lively style many relatively complex processes, concepts and gadgets. ...Readers will not need much prior scientific knowledge to follow the text. ...Evoking a scientific world that no longer exists is a difficult task, and Tobin has succeeded well at it." Physics World

    "William Tobin has written an excellent book about Foucault; I enjoyed reading it and I thoroughly recommend it." Notes & Records of the Royal Society of London

    "...with this meticulously researched and generously illustrated presentation of Foucault's life, in this reviewer's opinion Tobin fully achieves the aim he sets himself in the preface, of offering his readers 'a book of popular physics that will be entertaining as well as instructive'." Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

    "...[a] thorough, readable and beautifully illustrated biography... [Foucault] springs back to life in the pages of this excellent book." New Scientist

    "...[a] handsomely illustrated, thoroughly reasearched biography of Foucault... Tobin, in writing this book, wanted to provide a detailed account of the origins of modern physics, especially of astrophysics; he has succeeded admirably. Highly recommended." Choice

    "A very long pendulum has kept Léon Foucalt famous. But as William Tobin's thorough, readable and beautifully illustrated biography reveals, there was much more to the self-taught French 19th-century experimental physicist....This unconventional experiementer springs back to life in the pages of this excellent book." New Scientist

    "After completion of this review [of a rival book], I became aware of another very recent biography of Foucault: William Tobin, The Life and Science of Léon Foucault. Although I have not yet had time to read Tobin's book with care, it appears to be superior to Aczel's....and anyone with a serious interest in Foucault and his pendulums should consult it." American Journal of Physics

    "This book goes into much detail -- with plenty of illustrations and background on his personal life -- about how this 19th-century French physicist proved that the Earth rotates, helped perfect techniques for making astronomical optics, and made other important scientific findings." Sky & Telescope

    "It is not often that we are treated to a biography of a distinguished scientist written by another scientist, and a literate one at that. Astronomer William Tobin has written an absorbing description of the scientific deeds performed by Léon Foucault in the middle of the nineteenth century. ...the loving care which Tobin has lavished on this volume. ...a unique aspect of Tobin's book is the careful descriptions it provides of the physical principles underlying the many ingenous apparatuses designed by Foucault. Particularly gratifying is Tobin's description of how the famous pendulum behaves." Customer Review,

    "Foucault's experimental apparatus is described with lots of details and illustrated with numerous drawings from the time and photographs. The reader will wonder which should be admired more: the simplicity of the principles employed or the mechanical perfection of the apparatus...Through Foucault's work we rediscover a fraction of the history of physics. A number of appendices and an adundant bibliography complete the work. But let me give a friendly little will find it very difficult to put down until you have read it all, so much is it an engrossing read!" Triangulum

    "He writes with grace, clarity, and humor." ISIS, Michael F. Conlin

    "The author William Tobin must be congratulated for the production of such a splendid book. It is lucidly written and lavishly illustrated with stylish diagrams, plates, illustrations, photographs and Daguerreotypes...I defy anyone to read this book and not be infected by the enthusiasm the author has for his subject and the science. Any pedagogue should direct students towards this book for both inspiration and instruction. It is hoped that there will be more from the author in this genre, as it is a most refreshing approach to the presentation of scientific principles and thought." - Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine, John Lutkin

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2003
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521808552
    • length: 352 pages
    • dimensions: 254 x 197 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.938kg
    • contains: 305 b/w illus. 23 colour illus. 20 tables
    • availability: Unavailable - out of print December 2008
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Early years
    3. The metallic eye: photography
    4. The 'delicious pastime' applied to science
    5. The beautiful science of optics
    6. Order, precision and clarity: reporter for the Journal des Débats
    7. Mixed luck
    8. The speed of light I: disproof of the corpuscular theory
    9. The rotation of the earth: pendulum and gyroscope
    10. Biding time
    11. The observatory physicist
    12. Perfecting the telescope
    13. The speed of light II: the size of the solar system
    14. Recognition
    15. Control: the quest for fortune
    16. Unfinished projects
    17. Commentary
    Colour plates
    Appendices: A. Maps and chronology
    B. Extracts from the Journal des Débats
    C. Photographs and instruments
    D. Building a Foucault pendulum
    Notes and references

  • Author

    William Tobin, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
    William Tobin, M.A., Ph.D., F.R.A.S., was born in Manchester, England, in 1953 and attended Stockport Grammar School. He read Natural Sciences at Cambridge (Emmanuel College) and took his doctorate in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (USA). Since then he has worked at the University of St Andrews, the Laboratoire d'Astronomie Spatiale in Marseilles, the Marseilles Observatory (where Foucault's largest telescope is preserved and his interest in Foucault was sparked) and the Université de Provence. Since 1987 he has been at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he has been Director of the Mount John University Observatory and is currently a part-time Senior Lecturer in Astronomy, splitting his time between New Zealand and France. He has spent sabbatical leave at the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris. Research interests besides Foucault centre on eclipsing binary stars in the Magellanic Clouds and the comet-like objects surrounding the deep southern star Beta Pictoris. His astrophysical research has mostly been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the International Astronomical Union. Among his distinctions are the New Zealand Institute of Physics Journalism Award (1993), the Arthur Beer Memorial Prize for the best article in the journal Vistas in Astronomy (1994), and the Mechaelis Memorial Prize administered by the University of Otago for contributions to astronomy (1997).

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