The Spinning Magnet
The Force that Created the Modern World and Could Destroy It
Shortlisted for the 2018 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada Book Awards
Shortlisted for the 2018 Lane Anderson Award
Our future might be a world without electronics or protection from lethal solar radiation
The magnetic North Pole will eventually trade places with the South Pole. Satellite evidence suggests to some scientists that the move has already begun, but most still think it won't happen for many decades. All agree that it has happened many times before and will happen again. But this time it will be different. It will be a very bad day for modern civilization.
Award-winning science journalist Alanna Mitchell tells in The Spinning Magnet the fascinating history of one of the four fundamental physical forces in the universe, electro-magnetism. From investigations into magnetism in 13th century feudal France and the realization six hundred years later in the Victorian era that electricity and magnetism were essentially the same, to the discovery that the earth was itself a magnet, spinning in space with two poles and that those poles aperiodically reverse, this is an utterly engrossing narrative history of ideas and science that readers of Stephen Greenblatt and Sam Kean will love.
But the recent finding that the Earth's magnetic force field is decaying ten times faster than previously thought, portending an imminent pole reversal, ultimately gives this story a spine tingling urgency. When the poles switch, a process that takes many years, the Earth is unprotected from solar radiation storms that would, among other things, wipe out all electromagnetic technology. No satellites, no internet, no smart phones--maybe no power grid at all. Such potentially cataclysmic solar storms are not unusual. The last one occurred in 2012 and we avoided returning to the dark ages only because the part of the sun that erupted happened to be facing away from the Earth. One leading US researcher is already drawing maps of the parts of the planet that would likely become uninhabitable.
About this Author
ALANNA MITCHELL is an award-winning science journalist, author, and playwright. Since 2023, she has also been features editor at the acclaimed Broadview Magazine. She has written five books, including Sea Sick: the Global Ocean in Crisis and The Spinning Magnet. She has written for The New York Times, Canadian Geographic Magazine, The Walrus, Maclean's, Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail, among other publications. In 2014, with the help of two theatre directors, she turned Sea Sick into a one-woman play that she continues to perform all over the world.
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