Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Science Education 96:1 (January 2012), pp. 185–186; doi: 10.1002/sce.20476


Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Gillian Turner’s first book, North Pole, South Pole: The Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism, provides a thorough, historical accounting of scientific discovery of the earth’s magnetism, magnetic field, and its resulting effects. Turner is a senior lecturer in physics and geophysics at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and her writing possesses the voice of both a teacher and storyteller. She meticulously traces the history of our scientific understanding of magnetism, the scientists who were intrigued by the phenomena, and the innumerable research efforts to solve the puzzle of earth’s magnetism and its effects on the planet’s geology. As she states in the introduction, “for millennia, magnetism has commanded a magical sort of curiosity” (p. 4).

Turner carefully leads the reader through 2500 years of scientific discovery. She starts with the ancient Greeks’ early observations of the magnetic properties of lodestones and the earliest recorded development and use of the compass by the Chinese in the first century AD. The story ends with the breakthroughs of modern-day physicists and mathematicians modeling the geodynamo and the earth’s polarity reversals. Turner takes great pains to set the historical stage for each chapter of the book, the milieu of the times, places, and key players, as generations of scientists undertake investigations to decipher the phenomenon of magnetism. As a means of transitioning from chapter to chapter, Turner iteratively reveals the gaps in research at a particular point in history and then follows the unknown by tracing new developments through time by emerging scientists.

North Pole, South Pole: The Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism offers a compelling look into the science of earth’s magnetism as well as the people who have contributed to this pursuit. Turner reminds us through her narrative that there is always more to be learned about the world around us, and that the puzzle of the earth’s magnetic field is no less intriguing than our quest to refine our knowledge of human genetics or to unravel the complexities of the universe.