When Physics Became King

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 27, 2009 - Science - 288 pages
As recently as two hundred years ago, physics as we know it today did not exist. Born in the early nineteenth century during the second scientific revolution, physics struggled at first to achieve legitimacy in the scientific community and culture at large. In fact, the term "physicist" did not appear in English until the 1830s.

When Physics Became King traces the emergence of this revolutionary science, demonstrating how a discipline that barely existed in 1800 came to be regarded a century later as the ultimate key to unlocking nature's secrets. A cultural history designed to provide a big-picture view, the book ably ties advances in the field to the efforts of physicists who worked to win social acceptance for their research.

Beginning his tale with the rise of physics from natural philosophy, Iwan Morus chronicles the emergence of mathematical physics in France and its later export to England and Germany. He then elucidates the links between physics and industrialism, the technology of statistical mechanics, and the establishment of astronomical laboratories and precision measurement tools. His tale ends on the eve of the First World War, when physics had firmly established itself in both science and society.

Scholars of both history and physics will enjoy this fascinating and studied look at the emergence of a major scientific discipline.
 

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Contents

1 Queen of the Sciences
1
2 A Revolutionary Science
22
3 The Romance of Nature
54
4 The Science of Showmanship
87
5 The Science of Work
123
6 Mysterious Fluids and Forces
156
7 Mapping the Heavens
192
8 Places of Precision
226
9 Imperial Physics
261
Bibliographic Essay
287
Index
297
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About the author (2009)

Iwan Rhys Morus is a lecturer in the Department of History of Science at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is also coauthor of Making Modern Science, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

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