A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism

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A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism is a two-volume treatise on electromagnetism written by James Clerk Maxwell in 1873. Maxwell was revising the Treatise for a second edition when he died in 1879. The revision was completed by William Davidson Niven for publication in 1881. A third edition was prepared by J. J. Thomson for publication in 1892. the Treatise is considered a watershed in history of science and its influence has received considerable attention, including the book The Maxwellians (1991).


Preliminary. On the Measurement of Quantities.

PART I. Electrostatics.

  1. Description of Phenomena.
  2. Elementary Mathematical Theory of Electricity.
  3. On Electrical Work and Energy in a System of Conductors.
  4. General Theorems.
  5. Mechanical Action Between Two Electrical Systems.
  6. Points and Lines of Equilibrium.
  7. Forms of Equipotential Surfaces and Lines of Flow.
  8. Simple Cases of Electrification.
  9. Spherical Harmonics.
  10. Confocal Surfaces of the Second Degree.
  11. Theory of Electric Images.
  12. Conjugate Functions in Two Dimensions.
  13. Electrostatic Instruments.

PART II. Electrokinematics.

  1. The Electric Current.
  2. Conduction and Resistance.
  3. Electromotive Force Between Bodies in Contact.
  4. Electrolysis.
  5. Electrolytic Polarization.
  6. Mathematical Theory of the Distribution of Electric Currents.
  7. Conduction in Three Dimensions.
  8. Resistance and Conductivity in Three Dimensions.
  9. Conduction through Heterogeneous Media.
  10. Conduction in Dielectrics.
  11. Measurement of the Electric Resistance of Conductors.
  12. Electric Resistance of Substances.

PART III Magnetism

  1. Elementary Theory of Magnetism.
  2. Magnetic Force and Magnetic Induction.
  3. Particular Forms of Magnets.
  4. Induced Magnetization.
  5. Magnetic Problems.
  6. Weber's Theory of Magnetic Induction.
  7. Magnetic Measurements.
  8. Terrestrial Magnetism.

Part IV. Electromagnetism.

  1. Electromagnetic Force.
  2. Mutual Action of Electric Currents.
  3. Induction of Electric Currents.
  4. Induction of a Current on Itself.
  5. General Equations of Dynamics.
  6. Application of Dynamics to Electromagnetism.
  7. Electrokinetics.
  8. Exploration of the Field by means of the Secondary Circuit.
  9. General Equations.
  10. Dimensions of Electric Units.
  11. Energy and Stress.
  12. Current-Sheets.
  13. Parallel Currents.
  14. Circular Currents.
  15. Electromagnetic Instruments.
  16. Electromagnetic Observations.
  17. Electrical Measurement of Coefficients of Induction.
  18. Determination of Resistance in Electromagnetic Measure.
  19. Comparison of Electrostatic With Electromagnetic Units.
  20. Electromagnetic Theory of Light.
  21. Magnetic Action on Light.
  22. Electric Theory of Magnetism.
  23. Theories of Action at a distance.


On April 24, 1873, Nature announced the publication with an extensive description and much praise.[1] When the second edition was published in 1881, George Chrystal wrote the review for Nature.[2]

Pierre Duhem published a critical essay outlining mistakes he found in Maxwell's Treatise.[3] Duhem's book was reviewed in Nature.[4]


Alexander Macfarlane (1902): "This work has served as the starting point of many advances made in recent years. Maxwell is the scientific ancestor of Hertz, Hertz of Marconi and all other workers at wireless telegraphy.[5]

Albert Einstein (1931): "Before Maxwell people conceived of physical reality–in so far as it is supposed to represent events in nature–as material points, whose changes consist exclusively of motions, which are subject to total differential equations. After Maxwell they conceived physical reality as represented by continuous fields, not mechanically explicable, which are subject to partial differential equations. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and fruitful one that has come to physics since Newton; but it has at the same time to be admitted that the program has by no means been completely carried out yet."[6]

Richard P. Feynman: "From a long view of the history of mankind—seen from, say, ten thousand years from now—there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade."[7]

L. Pearce Williams (1991): "In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell published a rambling and difficult two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism that was destined to change the orthodox picture of physical reality. This treatise did for electromagnetism what Newton's Principia had done for classical mechanics. It not only provided the mathematical tools for the investigation and representation of the whole of electromagnetic theory, but it altered the very framework of both theoretical and experimental physics. Although the process had been going on throughout the nineteenth century, i was this work that finally displaced action at a distance physics and substituted the physics of the field."[8]


  1. ^ Review:A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism] from Nature 24 April 1873
  2. ^ George Chrystal (1882) Review: 2nd edition, link from Nature
  3. ^ Pierre Duhem (1902). Les Théories Électriques de J. Clerk Maxwell: Étude Historique et Critique. Paris: A. Hermann
  4. ^ W. McF. Orr (1902) A French Critic of Maxwell, link from Nature 17 April 1902
  5. ^ Alexander Macfarlane (1916) Lectures on Ten British Physicists of the Nineteenth Century, link from Internet Archive
  6. ^ Einstein, Albert (1931). "Maxwell's Influence On The Evolution Of The Idea Of Physical Reality". James Clerk Maxwell: A Commemoration Volume (C.U.P.). 
  7. ^ Bruce J. Hunt (1991) The Maxwellians, page 1, Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-2641-3. Source The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964) 2:1.11
  8. ^ L. Pearce Williams (1991)Preface to The Maxwellians

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