The Spinning Magnet

Pages: 336
Subject: Popular Science
Imprint: Oneworld

The Spinning Magnet

The Force That Created the Modern World – and Could Destroy It

Alanna Mitchell

The fascinating history of electromagnetism and how, in the not-so-distant future, the Earth's poles will switch places - with potentially catastrophic results
9781786075505 (4 Apr 2019)
RRP £9.99
9781786074249 (7 Jun 2018)
RRP £16.99

The Book

North is north and south is south. Or is it?

Every once in a long while, the Earth's magnetic poles switch places. It's happened many times in deep history, but never since humans walked the planet. After the next big switch, our compasses will point the wrong way and we will no longer be able to see the aurora borealis in Iceland. But that's not all. It might just push us back into the Stone Age.

Beginning with the first investigations into electromagnetism, The Spinning Magnet charts a fascinating history of one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Award-winning science journalist Alanna Mitchell reveals how the Victorians made their pivotal discoveries, delves into unseen and unforeseen natural forces that threaten our planet, and warns of a possible future where solar radiation storms wipe out power grids and electronic communication across the globe.

Additional Information

Subject Popular Science
Pages 336
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Alanna Mitchell is an award-winning science journalist and author of Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, which won the Grantham Prize for environmental journalism. She's written for the New York Times, National Geographic and the Globe and Mail. She lives in Toronto, Canada.


‘Stokes the reader's curiosity about one of the most critical but invisible forces in the universe.'

- BBC Sky at Night

‘A compelling yarn describing our historical efforts to understand the force that created the world, and as the subtitle warns, could bring about its end…Destined to become a classic of popular science.'

- E&T Magazine

‘The Earth's magnetic field…tends to be taken for granted. In reality it's a fickle, ill-understood phenomenon. Alanna Mitchell delves into the mystery, in an engrossing book that features a new surprise on every page.'

- Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture

‘A fascinating untold story of science that is full of mystery and intrigue, and written with a great deal of style.'

- Mark Miodownik, New York Times bestselling author of Stuff Matters, winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize

‘Mitchell's portrait gallery is researched with a depth and breadth that make its protagonists' triumphs and failures compelling. She also gives entertaining accounts of today's working geoscientists… Her interviews provide insights into their thoughts and actions that transcend the stereotypes of inscrutable nerd or heroic explorer.'

- Nature

‘Captivating scientific history…an invaluable contribution to the popular science shelf.'

- Booklist

‘A compelling tale of unseen and unforeseen natural forces - and a reminder that we've staked our home on a planet that remains infinitely strange, dangerous - and ever full of wonder.'

- Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

‘In The Spinning Magnet, Alanna Mitchell pulls off the rare trifecta in science writing: an engrossing plot of a planetary mystery, authentic character portraits of scientists and their passion for their work, and explanations of complex physics in easily understandable terms.'

- Sabine Stanley, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University

‘Mitchell draws us into a spellbinding scientific detective story, told over the ages, as she nimbly explains magnetism's role in everything that matters. Each chapter is filled with exciting new revelations written in clear crisp prose. A skilled writer, Mitchell puts magnetism on the map!'

- Timothy J. Jorgensen, author of Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, winner of the American Institute of Physics’ Science Communication Award