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The Chemical History of a Candle

Michael Faraday

Book Overview: 

The Chemical History of a Candle is a series of 6 lectures on chemistry. Taught by Michael Faraday - a chemist and physist, and regarded as the best experimentalist in the history of science - it is probably the most famous of the Christmas Lectures of the Royal Society. Taking the everyday burning of a candle as a starting point, Faraday spans the arc from combustion and its products, via the components of water and air (oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon), back to the type of combustion that happens in the human body when we breathe. The final lecture "On Platinum" describes a then new method to produce large quantities of Platinum.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .but we see what happens to a candle when it is burnt in a pure and proper state of air. At the time when I shewed you this charring by the ring of flame on the one side of the paper, I might have also shewn you, by turning to the other side, that the burning of a candle produces the same kind of soot—charcoal or carbon.

But, before I shew that, let me explain to you—as it is quite necessary for our purpose—that, though I take a candle and give you, as the general result, its combustion in the form of a flame, we must see whether combustion is always in this condition, or whether there are other conditions of flame; and we shall soon discover that there are, and that they are most important to us. I think, perhaps, the best illustration of such a point to us, as juveniles, is to shew the result of strong contrast. Here is a little gunpowder. You know that gunpowder burns with flame—we may fairly call it flame. It contains carbo. . . Read More

Community Reviews

I wish I could rate this book higher, but I can’t. Faraday is certifiably awesome, and it would definitely be worth a trip in a time machine to have seen his lectures. But, for me, reading them fell a little flat.

This was partially my fault, as I read a copy with no pictures, and this book would hav

During the Christmas holidays of 1825, the Royal Institution organised a short programme of science lectures for young people. This became an annual event, which continues today. For the 1848 season, Michael Faraday gave a series of six talks called The Chemical History of a Candle. They were publis

A friend bought this book for me for my birthday because she knows of my predilection for interesting facts. However, I had a hard time getting into this book. I don't mean to sound unthankful, and I don't want to say it because she just got this for me with the hope that I'd enjoy it, but I sort of

Libro de divulgación filosófica (el término científico se extiende a finales del s. XIX) que invita a divulgar la ciencia "para iluminar a quienes tenéis a vuestro alrededor como si fuerais luces" y a practicar ciencia "es un buen experimento para que lo hagáis en casa". Sin duda, un lujo asistir a

Lovely set of scientific lectures aimed at young people on the many, many things that can be learned from a candle. I do not have a scientific background, but I was able to follow along quite well. You can find the experiments recreated on YouTube. I love how Faraday shows such tenderness towards hi

I read this when I was playing with candle-making in Pittsburgh and it was a really fascinating scientific read; Written in a style that was exceptionally easy to read and follow. I purchased it more recently hoping the boys might enjoy reading it but I don't think they ever did.

You know when you get that burning idea that says, "Oh, Lordy, I wish I had been there for those science lectures?"


Honestly, though, this is 1861 with the actual Michael Faraday of the Faraday cages for dispersing EM currents, although he doesn't go into any of that here. These cl

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