Magnetism, at least in its manifest properties, was known to several ancient civilizations. The magnetic compass needle has been used as a navigational aid for nearly a thousand years. Over the centuries–largely in the last two hundred years–we have identified different kinds of magnetism, explained magnetism’s relationship to electricity, and even confirmed the existence of magnetic fields produced by living organisms. Yet the fundamental truth of magnetism – that a magnet can attract a metal paper clip from a distance – remains, to a great extent, unexplained.
This complex and compelling history is well documented in the Vail Collection. From Pierre de Maricourt’s landmark Epistola de magnete to more esoteric works on magnetic healing, readers have the chance to explore this phenomenon in all its applications.