Faraday's famous lectures
The chemical history of a candle (150th anniversary edition)
Michael Faraday (edited and introduced by Frank James)
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press
2011 | 152pp | £14.99 (HB)
Reviewed by Bill Griffith
Faraday uses the candle as a symbol to talk about the nature of combustion - how the oxygen from air is needed, how water and CO2 are produced and the hidden role of hydrogen. The text is lyrical and beautifully expressed, communicating his obvious enthusiasm, authority and sense of excitement. There were many accompanying demonstrations, often involving explosions and bright lights. Endearingly, Faraday talks about himself and the audience as 'we philosophers' and, on one occasion, as 'we juveniles'.
Frank James provides an elegant, well-referenced and informative introduction, recounting the history of the Christmas Lectures and of the Candle in particular (Charles Dickens published some earlier versions of these lectures in his Household Words). He speculates on what has kept this text alive for so long - it apparently is still used for teaching purposes in Japan and China. It is of course fine literature, as he points out, but clearly not cutting-edge science. I think we regard it with such warm affection because of the power and excitement which it still conveys and is literary qualities. As an 1861 review in the Daily News said: '[it] is so simple and engaging that the youngest reader is charmed'.
If you have never read the Candle you are in for a treat. This edition is reasonably priced, well illustrated and handsomely produced.
RSC members can purchase this book direct from the publishers for a 25% discount on the RRP. See the member benefits link on this page.
The exciting new benefits package offers members fantastic discounts on a wide range of products and services
The chemical history of a candle
Purchase this book from Amazon.co.uk
External links will open in a new browser window