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The Master of Light: A Biography of Albert A. Michelson by Dorothy Michelson Livingston (109,000 words, 59 illustrations)

In this biography of Albert A. Michelson (1852-1931), his daughter shares personal reminiscences, describes her father’s family life — two wives, six children, and a strong temperament — and follows Michelson from his birth in Poland to Jewish parents to the United States where his parents brought him at the age of three, settling in a gold-rush town in Nevada and then in San Francisco. Michelson graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1873, studied in Europe, taught at Clark University, and was head of the department of physics at the University of Chicago from 1894 to 1929.

Michelson’s passion was the accurate measurement of the speed of light. In his first experiment, he found it to be 186,320 miles per second, which remained the best value available for a generation, until Michelson himself bettered it. He also invented the interferometer to measure distances using the length of light waves; he measured the meter using the wavelength of cadmium light for the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris; and he used light interference to determine the size of stars. With E. W. Morley, he
showed that the absolute motion of the earth through the ether is not measurable, contributing to the development of the theory of relativity. The first American to receive a Nobel prize in science, Michelson received the Nobel prize in physics in 1907 for his optical precision instruments and for the spectroscopic and metrological investigations he made with them.

“This work of a devoted daughter who is not herself a scientist catches the humanity of a complex, brilliant man through anecdotes and informed detail.” —
The New York Times

“From personal recollection, from much reading, and from interviews, Mrs. Livingston has written a well-organized scientific biography of her father... In this book the author has attempted not only to discuss his scientific achievements, but also to portray Michelson the man — his personality and character, strengths and foibles. He was dedicated but demanding and could be arrogant, strict, and severe... This book portrays Michelson not as a legend, but as a real, believable person.” — John N. Howard,

“[A] beautiful family portrait of Albert Abraham Michelson, America’s first Nobel laureate for science. This biography is more than an intellectual exercise, more than merely of academic or scientific or historical interest. It is almost a religious work that begins with a ‘quest for my father’ and ends with a ‘postscript’ on Michelson’s honors and continuing influence... an intelligently organized, emotionally motivated, intellectually controlled search for meaning in the life and works of a great man of science... Michelson’s youngest daughter by his second marriage, has presented a sensitive, artful, honest, and superbly readable portrait of her father... [which] paints the full life, personal relations, and human figure of Michelson in a form that is a worthy monument to his memory... We learn to know much more intimately where Michelson originated, how he matured, who recognized and helped him, what personal influences shaped his life, when and where his own exertions were influential in shaping the life of physics in the United States and the world... the author has been remarkably judicious and meticulous in handling her material.” — Loyd S. Swenson, Jr.,

“A non-physicist herself, [the author] has relied heavily on physicists who were familiar with her father’s work and with the field of optics in general, as well as archivists, historians of science, writers and editors. Thus, this thorough biography is the fortunate combination of the efforts of many people, resulting in a valuable reference work as well as a very readable story about one of America’s greatest scientists... Its merit lies in the masterful way the author has melded voluminous information from many sources into a sensitive and realistic portrait of Michelson, showing him as a very real person with strengths and weaknesses, and showing his relation to scientists and the science of his period. It is a book well written and well worth reading by physicists and non-physicists alike.” — Jean M. Bennett,
Physics Today

“Mrs Livingston, Michelson’s last child by his second wife, is, as she says, neither a physicist nor a writer. Her book nonetheless has something for both the general reader and the specialist. The former will find an interesting and even adventurous life, the latter some gems from unpublished correspondence.” — J. L. Heilbron,
The British Journal for the History of Science

“The biography is a well-researched, accurate, and reliable work enhanced by the author’s invaluable first-hand experience with the subject. Michelson’s achievements are set against his personal life including his family, relationships to other scientists, and the struggles which inevitably develop in establishing a college science department.” — George T. Ladd,
The Science Teacher

“This excellent biography by Michelson’s youngest daughter is a judicious mixture of anecdotes and details of the scientific achievements... Dorothy Livingston is to be congratulated on this very readable and informative biography of her talented father.” — W. W. Watson,
American Scientist

“[An] admirable biography of Michelson the man... most fascinating.” — David R. Topper,
Technology and Culture