Short fuse on Ampere

July 12, 1996

I was disappointed to read F. N. H. Robinson's review of James R. Hofmann's biography of Andre-Marie Ampere (THES, June 21).

One wonders how much Dr Robinson knows of the history of science. How else to explain the remark that "Ampere was hampered by his lack of the notion of a magnetic field"? Copernicus was equally hampered by his lack of the notion of Newtonian gravity.

The history of science is not intended to explain science to the uninitiated but to give an account of the complexity and difficulty of scientific progress in the past. Thus, your reviewer's reference to E. T. Whittaker's now totally discredited History is irrelevant.

Hofmann's discussion of Ampere's life is not simply padding; it is essential to the understanding of Ampere's work. Hofmann's biography is the only one in any language that deals seriously with Ampere's scientific career.

It is an excellent account and, as someone who has been working on Amp re for 20 years, I recommend it unreservedly to your readers.

L. PEARCE WILLIAMS John Stambaugh professor of the history of science, Emeritus, Cornell University

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