Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, Jul 1, 2003 - Science - 572 pages
0 Reviews
Winner of the the Susan Elizabeth Abrams Prize in History of Science.

When Isaac Newton published the Principia three centuries ago, only a few scholars were capable of understanding his conceptually demanding work. Yet this esoteric knowledge quickly became accessible in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Britain produced many leading mathematical physicists. In this book, Andrew Warwick shows how the education of these "masters of theory" led them to transform our understanding of everything from the flight of a boomerang to the structure of the universe.

Warwick focuses on Cambridge University, where many of the best physicists trained. He begins by tracing the dramatic changes in undergraduate education there since the eighteenth century, especially the gradual emergence of the private tutor as the most important teacher of mathematics. Next he explores the material culture of mathematics instruction, showing how the humble pen and paper so crucial to this study transformed everything from classroom teaching to final examinations. Balancing their intense intellectual work with strenuous physical exercise, the students themselves—known as the "Wranglers"—helped foster the competitive spirit that drove them in the classroom and informed the Victorian ideal of a manly student. Finally, by investigating several historical "cases," such as the reception of Albert Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, Warwick shows how the production, transmission, and reception of new knowledge was profoundly shaped by the skills taught to Cambridge undergraduates.

Drawing on a wealth of new archival evidence and illustrations, Masters of Theory examines the origins of a cultural tradition within which the complex world of theoretical physics was made commonplace.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Teaching Mixed Mathematics in Georgian and Victorian Cambridge
The Material Culture and PracticeLadenness of Mixed Mathematics
Mathematics Manliness and Athleticism
Coaching Research and the Reform of Public Teaching
6 Making Sense of Maxwells Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in MidVictorian Cambridge
7 Joseph Larmor the Electronic Theory of Matter and the Principle of Relativity
The Cambridge Reception of Einsteins Special Theory of Relativity
A S Eddington and the Cambridge Reception of Einsteins General Theory of Relativity
Training Continuity and Change
Coaching Success 18651909
Coaching Lineage 18651909

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (2003)

Andrew Warwick is a senior lecturer in the history of science at Imperial College, London, and coeditor of Teaching the History of Science and Histories of the Electron: The Birth of Microphysics.

Bibliographic information