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After nearly 10 years on this site this is the first time that I feel compelled to write a review. When the end credits started rolling one sentence came to my mind: "This is how science should be taught". In schools, in books and on television. So many people feel repelled by mathematics, physics or chemistry because they have been introduced to it the wrong way. Students are asked to memorize definitions and equations, but they are rarely if ever told how the theories they are taught in school were devised in the first place. Observations and experiments are the heart of every theory that aims to explain how the natural world works, and they are the ones which give the most insight into how things work.
"Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity" is about those landmark observations and experiments which have increased our understanding and mastery of electricity (and magnetism) over the centuries, and which have allowed for technological innovations that have become ubiquitous in our lives today: light bulbs, radio, phones, computers, and everything else that depends on electricity. We take these things for granted, and we tend to forget that barely 200 years ago our civilization had none of it. Imagine if we were born in a time when none of these technologies existed, how amazing it would be to learn that we can light our homes at night without burning oil or candles, or that we can send messages to people on the other side of the ocean in a matter of seconds as opposed to weeks or months.
Presenter Jim Al-Khalili's love of science shines through, as he recreates historical experiments and tells the story of the protagonists who made it happen. Most of the big names are there: Volta, Galvani, Cavendish, Faraday, Franklin, Maxwell, Hertz, Edison, Tesla, as well as many other important but not so well known figures. The exposition is clear and logical. You do not need a background in physics to understand what is said here, in fact I feel like I have understood more about electricity and magnetism during the 3 hours I have watched this documentary than during the many years I studied the subject in school.
A couple of times the shell model of the atom is invoked to explain some observed phenomena, where the electrons are shown to "gravitate" around the nucleus. This model has been known to be wrong for nearly a century now. Al-Khalili does state that this was the model used at the time, but I don't remember him explicitly saying that it is now outdated. Usually I would remove one star, but the rest is so perfect that I cannot get myself to give it less than 10. This documentary makes you understand how many things we use every day work, and it makes you want to keep learning and participate in the advancement of science. School never did that to me.
When I have kids I want to show them things that will make them dream, that will stimulate and open their minds, things that will leave them with memories they will be glad to have, be it books, travels, movies, music or documentaries. Carl Sagan's Cosmos is one documentary I have in mind to tell them about the universe. I'm now adding "The Story of Electricity" to the list. Watch it for yourself, and show it to your kids (provided they are not too young as the dissection scenes might be a bit disturbing), if they are any curious about how things work they will love it! (and so will you)
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