A year or so ago I discovered in the library stacks a remarkable book, Geschichte der Physik, by J. C. Poggendorff, first published in 1878. It was a facsimile reprint of 1964 by the Zentral-Antiquariat of the DDR. I was so fascinated and pleased by the style and content of this book that I went through the large volume, 937 pages, from cover to cover. It is critical, lucid, and impartial in its treatment, not ashamed to reveal uncertain and doubtful episodes, and relying as much as possible on primary sources. One of the most important benefits of the work for the reader is to present clearly the difficulties in the way of assigning priority and independence in even the best-known developments.
J. C. Poggendorff was an important electrical researcher in the early days of modern electrical science, but his greatest contributions were as editor of Poggendorffs Annalen, later the Annalen der Physik, and as a critical historian of science. He is not nearly as well-known at present as he deserves, but this book is one of his monuments.
There have been no translations of the Geschichte into English; I was able to find only one translation of long ago into French. I believe that the book should be more widely known, but I have not been able to interest a publisher into financing the translation and printing of the book (I have not tried very hard, mainly because I do not know how to do this, and hate selling things). Of course, I would be delighted to do the translation!
I intend to publish on this page material that will show the nature of the book, and open to a wider public its considerable merits.
Foreword by W. Barentin
Composed by J. B. Calvert
Last revised 20 June 1999