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The Spinning Magnet

The Spinning Magnet

The Electromagnetic Force That Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy It


The Spinning Magnet

About the Book

The mystery of Earth's invisible, life-supporting power

Alanna Mitchell's globe-trotting history of the science of electromagnetism and the Earth's magnetic field--right up to the latest indications that the North and South Poles may soon reverse, with apocalyptic results--will soon change the way you think about our planet.

Award-winning journalist Alanna Mitchell's science storytelling introduce intriguing characters--from the thirteenth-century French investigations into magnetism and the Victorian-era discover that electricity and magnetism emerge from the same fundamental force to the latest research. No one has ever told so eloquently how the Earth itself came to be seen as a magnet, spinning in space with two poles, and that those poles have dramatically reversed many time, often coinciding with mass extinctions. The most recent reversal was 780,000 years ago.

Mitchell explores indications that the Earth's magnetic force field is decaying faster than previously thought. When the poles switch, a process that takes many years, the Earth is unprotected from solar radiation storms that would, among other disturbances, wipe out much and possible all of our electromagnetic technology. Navigation for all kinds of animals is disrupted without a stable, magnetic North Pole. But can you imagine no satellites, no Internet, no smartphones--maybe no power grids at all?

Alanna Mitchell offers a beautifully crafted narrative history of surprising ideas and science, illuminating invisible parts of our own planet that are constantly changing around us.

Product Details

On sale: January 30, 2018
Page count: 336 Pages
ISBN: 9781101985168

Author Bio

ALANNA MITCHELL is an acclaimed science journalist and author of Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, which won the Grantham Prize for excellence in environmental journalism. She won a National Magazine Award in 2014 for a feature on the biology of extinction and in 2015 won a New York International Radio Festival Silver Medal for her science documentary on neonicotinoid pesticides. She has written for The New York Times Science section and is a contributor to CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks. She lives in Toronto, Canada.


Praise for The Spinning Magnet

"The Earth's magnetic field -- an invisible cloak that shields our bodies and our technologies from deadly harm -- tends to be taken for granted. In reality it's a fickle, ill-understood phenomenon. Alanna Mitchell delves into the mystery, in an engrossing book that features a new surprise on every page."
—Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

"In The Spinning Magnet, Alanna Mitchell weaves a scientific mystery in the best possible way, exploring the ancient puzzle of our planet's electromagnetic field, following scientists as they attempt to decipher its clues, leading us to a better understanding of Earth's invisible and powerful electromagnetic field. The result is a compelling tale of unseen and unforeseen natural forces - and a reminder that we've staked our home on a planet that remains infinitely strange, dangerous - and ever full of wonder."
—Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

"A fascinating untold story of science that is full of mystery and intrigue, and written with a great deal of style." 
—Mark Miodownik, New York Times bestselling author of Stuff Matters, winner of the Royal Society’s Winton Prize

"In The Spinning Magnet, Alanna Mitchell pulls off the rare trifecta in science writing: an engrossing plot of a planetary mystery, authentic character portraits of scientists and their passion for their work, and explanations of complex physics in easily understandable terms."
—Sabine Stanley, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University

 “Most of us don’t think much about magnetism or the Earth’s magnetic field. We recognize the importance of navigational compasses and the usefulness of those little magnets that decorate our kitchen refrigerators, but we don’t feel magnetism’s presence in our daily lives and we suspect we could probably live without it. Think again! In The Spinning Magnet, Alanna Mitchell draws us into a spellbinding scientific detective story, told over the ages, as she nimbly explains magnetism’s role in everything that matters. Each chapter is filled with exciting new revelations written in clear crisp prose. A skilled writer, Mitchell puts magnetism on the map!”
Timothy J. Jorgensen, author of Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, winner of the American Institute of Physics' Science Communication Award

“[Mitchell] makes vivid the process of science … A complex, well-told account of ‘this spinning magnet we live on.'"Kirkus Reviews

“Captivating scientific history… an invaluable contribution to the popular science shelf.” Booklist

“Mitchell’s nontechnical discussion is substantively accessible, and her vivid writing holds the reader’s attention. … Pop science readers and science policy wonks will find plenty to think—and worry—about here.”  –Publisher’s Weekly

“There is little doubt that the magnetic field will reverse again. In the meantime, The Spinning Magnet gives readers a nontechnical description of electromagnetism and a measured assessment of the possible consequences for our modern world if it does so in the near future.” –Science

“An intriguing story of humankind’s recent and evolving understanding of the integral electromagnetic properties of our planet that should hold the interest of both teen and adult readers.”  Library Journal

"Mitchell’s portrait gallery is researched with a depth and breadth that make its protagonists’ triumphs and failures compelling. She also gives entertaining accounts of today’s working geoscientists. … Her interviews provide insights into their thoughts and actions that transcend the stereotypes of inscrutable nerd or heroic explorer." –Nature

“We don’t usually feature nonfiction books on this list, but science journalist Mitchell’s narrative history of the science of electromagnetism—with a look toward the future and the imminent, inevitable reversing of the North and South Poles—sounds as thrilling as any scifi tale.”  -io9

“Leaves readers tingling with anticipation… A thorough investigation of the scientific discoveries surrounding the electromagnetic field and what might happen when this force field fails.” -Shelf Awareness

“In the same vein as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Mitchell’s captivating book shocks us into contemplating the physical forces that keep our world spinning that we take for granted every day.”  —BookPage