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Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  1,230 Ratings  ·  195 Reviews

A fascinating slice of true-crime history that unfolds in 1695, when law enforcement was unheard of and modern money was little more than a concept

When renowned scientist Isaac Newton took up the post of Warden of His Majesty’s Mint in London, another kind of genius—a preternaturally gifted counterfeiter named William Chaloner—had already taken up residence in th

Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 12th 2010 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Dec 22, 2011 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book starts with an extended thumbnail sketch of Newton and his Natural Philosophy. This is done quite well – though, if that is what you are after perhaps a better book is Isaac Newton.

This one runs through his three laws (things will keep moving unless you stop them, the force you use to stop them equals their mass multiplied by their acceleration and whatever shove you give something it shoves back at you with the same force). He briefly explains the calculus. He spends lots of time tal
Jim Leffert
Not only was Newton a great scientist and mathematician, but in his 50’s, he left Cambridge and scientific explorations for a second career as Warden of the Mint in London. In Newton and the Counterfeiter, Levenson initially brings us up to speed on Newton and his work as a scientist. He paints a vivid picture of Newton the person, recounting how this rural child and compulsive tinkerer and scholarship student at Cambridge, who initially paid his way by waiting on other students’ tables, came to ...more
Holly Weiss
Mar 02, 2012 Holly Weiss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
On June 4, 1661, Issac Newton made a virtually unnoticed arrival as a first year student at Trinity College, Cambridge. Poor and so preoccupied with his studies that he forgot to eat, he left only to escape the plague of 1665. He quietly and diligently studied mathematics, physics and philosophy. When he returned in 1667 to complete his degree he had become the greatest mathematician in the world, but was completely unknown. After being appointed professor he invented the three laws of motion.

Jul 22, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Isaac Newton stopped my attempt to get through Physics I-II in college dead in its tracks, so I've kind of stayed out of his way ever since. However, who could resist an account of Newton matching wits with one of the cleverest counterfeiters of his time? And once I was drawn into the tale, I learned more about Newton's scientific accomplishments (and exceedingly strange life) than I ever thought anyone could get me to absorb. To distill the story to its essence: Newton, although famous, was poo ...more
Tim Hicks
Aug 08, 2011 Tim Hicks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good complement to what you already knew about Newton.

I was waiting for further developments in the story, and was surprised when the main body of the book ended at page 247 of 318. The rest of the book has acknowledgements, notes, bibliography and an index. The author wants us to know that he did a lot of work on this!

Levenson is deft about leading us to the conclusion that Chaloner was good, but not nearly as good as he thought he was. Unfortunately the packaging of this led me to
Eileen Daly-Boas
Mar 15, 2012 Eileen Daly-Boas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this book, but I just liked it a lot. It's the kind of book that I'd have to sit down with and say, "well, let's just be friends." I learned so much about Newton that I didn't know before, but I found Newton vs. Chaloner (the counterfeiter) less interesting than the beginning of bank notes, and paper money. Newton himself always stays a bit out of reach to us, but Levenson more than adequately tracks the path from logical, theoretical thinker to practical and pragmatic manager a ...more
Dec 21, 2010 Marsha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just came in through interlibrary I know what I'll be doing this afternoon on a wonderful chilly winter day.

After a while, this got boring...too much detail about the bad guy and not enough interesting stuff.
Joseph R.
Jun 08, 2016 Joseph R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read_2016
Isaac Newton is most famous as a scientist, a key figure in the scientific revolution who developed laws of motion and gravitation as well as calculus (whether Leibniz developed it first is a controversy for another book). He is less well known for his interest in alchemy (transmuting base metals into gold) and esoteric biblical studies. Perhaps least known is his tenure at the Royal Mint, where he oversaw a major recoining project and prosecuted counterfeiters.

While focused on Newton's years wi
Geoffrey Irvin
Sep 16, 2012 Geoffrey Irvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting account of the clash between two diametrically opposed people. In plan, the book creates a medium grade account of Newton's life, his genius for mathematics, his extraordinary grasp of almost any subject his mind brought to focus. The account covers the unprecendented intellectual output and driven work ethic of Newton. It explores his friendships with Locke, Hooke, Pepys and a possible continental love interest.
It provides an introduction to the revolution that was differential
It is essential when reading non-fiction that something new is learned. It is also essential when enjoying non-fiction that what is learned is fun to talk about. This book was both informative and discussion worthy.

I learned a lot about Isaac Newton, for instance, that his major work "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" was printed only when a colleague asked him his thoughts on a vexing problem of the day. He immediately answered the question to his colleagues surprise who asked him
Jun 22, 2009 Ari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's an ideal airplane book. Read it basically in one sitting, enroute home from Washington.

Newton was seriously badass. I had heard, wrongly, that he invented milled edges for coins while Warden of the Mint. He didn't -- they were invented well before him.

What Newton did do as Warden of the Mint is less easy to summarize, but more impressive. He supervised and successfully pushed through the Great Recoinage. No technical innovation, but an impressive display of management skill for somebody fam
Diana Sandberg
Nov 19, 2009 Diana Sandberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Puffery of biographical/historical work quite frequently claims the work in question “reads like a novel”. This, to put it charitably, is often an optimistic overstatement. However, this book is easily as intriguing and engaging as many a good work of fiction and I am hugely impressed with the author’s ability to spin a fascinating tale within the confines of real research and the limits of contemporary documentation. I loved the presentation of Newton’s character and accomplishments, the i ...more
May 15, 2010 Jrobertus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cover describes this as a book about Isaac Newton as a detective, and in a way it is. Mostly though, it a history about Newton and his times. The background about Newton's scientific accomplishment and genius is interesting. The context of the times, the birth of modern science, is interesting, Newton's fascination with alchemy and religious mysticism is interesting, and the story about English money, wars, re-coining and counterfeiting, and jurisprudence is interesting. As you can tell I fo ...more
Jan 17, 2011 David rated it liked it
This fine piece of writing, thoughoughly researched, reveals an Isaac Newton unknown to most casual students of English history, me included. Newton the scientist is revealed as Newton the indefatigable and relentless prosecutor, during his stint as Warden of the English Mint. In his zealous pursuit of counterfeiter William Chaloner, Sir Isaac crosses over justice's ethical line, but based upon standards of the era, perhaps he was only playing by the current rules.

Mr. Levenson has a pretty good
Dec 27, 2009 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this story is an enjoyable read, I kept waiting for the Counterfeiter to be more clever and capable than he really was. After giving us the greatest discoveries of his time, I looked for Newton to employ revolutionary new coin minting schemes and amazing detective methods. Not so much. In the end, it was simple brute force; interview, jail and threaten everyone. Newton's case against the Counterfeiter was a crushing parade of witness testimony, no physical evidence, no smoking press. That ...more
Interesting story detailing Newton's the Warden of the Mint. The book manages to encompass the rest of his amazing contributions to physics and mathematics, but focuses on his second career working on Britain's monetary problems. In particular, Newton contends with a pesky career criminal and learns to become an effective enforcer of the law. Very well-researched. Brings together biography, history, law, and economics.
Barbara Verchot
Feb 23, 2013 Barbara Verchot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book. The author, Thomas Levenson, does a great job of weaving the story of Newton and his physics into the tale of his work at His Majesty's Mint. I give it a 4 and not a 5 as he does not come up to the standard of Simon Winchester...the gold standard for this type of book. But, do not be put off, it is well done, a wonderful book, and read.
Learnin Curve
Oct 18, 2013 Learnin Curve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's amazing that we are not taught about such a fascinating period of Newton's life in school. Utterly fascinating potted history of Newton's early life followed by What Newton Did Next.

One thing I did like was Levenson's ability to stay neutral, there is no agenda here, just the pursuit of the truth. I think Newton would have appreciated it.
Aug 05, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Natural Philosopher: today the phrase seems quaint; a relic of an older time when humankind’s understanding of the world was rudimentary. And it is true that when the scientific method and the major branches of science itself were being developed the distinctions between what we moderns think of as “science” and now-debunked studies (e.g. astrology, alchemy, magic and so on) were blurry or almost non-existent.

Philosophy of any kind was traditionally considered the act of learned or inquisitive m
Gumble's Yard
Feb 18, 2017 Gumble's Yard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
The story of Isaac Newton and man who became his nemesis – the Coiner Chaloner. The book has excellent background on Newton – one of its central themes is that much of his apparently different characters (scientist, alchemist, and implacable pursuer of coiners) all stemmed from his belief in the divine and attempts both to discover more proof of how God acts and stop others who would cast doubts on divinity. Sections on Chaloner are also good as are those on the clash between the two (although t ...more
Mary Davidsaver
This work is an interesting journey into the personal life of Isaac Newton and an investigation into the financial mess that the British government found itself in the 1690s. The solutions to the problem of keeping the armies of King William III in the field are still with us today. This was an interesting historical read and I appreciated the direct quotes from the records of the time, many written by Newton. I can appreciate Newton's search for the hand of God. What I missed from the section o ...more
I learned a lot, and adored the descriptions of ye olde London Town, but I wished for more about the counterfeiter and Newton's career at the Mint. Also, something about using quotes out of primary sources rally grated on me. Still, an interesting read.
Karl H.
Newton and the Counterfeiter is part of what has practically become a non-fiction genre by now. Take a notable figure or event, pair it up with a non-notable historical footnote, and write a book about how the two are related. Such books have occasionally caught my eye- I'm thinking here of Devil in the White City and Roosevelt and the River of Doubt. I like how these stories often shine light on lesser known parts of a famous event or people. Sometimes though, they aren't so much a main course ...more
Dana Stabenow
Jun 20, 2009 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that only underscores how little I know. I knew about Newton, sure, I'd even heard that great line of Pope's ('God said Let Newton be! and there was light.') but I certainly didn't know that after thirty years at Cambridge Newton got a patronage job at the Royal Mint and pretty much personally hauled the British nation back from the brink of bankruptcy, and further, acted in the capacity of criminal investigator (squee!) in chasing down counterfeiters.

Reading this book
Oct 02, 2013 Gregg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard for me to make heads or tails of Newton's science. I know it has to do with larger bodies exerting pulls on lesser ones, producing elliptical orbits based on some kind of ratio of mass and weights. I also know that he produced a master study on optics, but what he actually said in this study I can't even summarize. That being the case, I was relieved to find this particular work, which addresses an entirely different aspect of the great man's career - the years he spent as Master and W ...more
Susan Berry
My most recent foray into science began with a series of WWII novels (Los Alamos, The Good German, and All the Light We Cannot See). Through this, I forget now why, I was discovered Thomas Levenson’s Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist.

Issac Newton as a detective, investigator, pursuer and prosecutor of criminals for the British (then English) Mint? Since when I asked when I discovered a blurb about the book.

Levenson does an excellent job
Oct 13, 2012 J rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I would not have picked up this book if the secondhand bookstore had properly filed it. However I spotted it on the mystery shelf and thought it might be a fictional account with the Newton persona as the hero.

Much to my surprise, the book is a biography and a history of England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In the vernacular of William Chaloner, a counterfeiter whom Newton seems to have perceived as his personal nemesis, I "w
David Kent
Dec 04, 2015 David Kent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly interesting book about a largely unknown part of the life of Isaac Newton. As a scientist I've come to know Newton as the guy who described gravity and the laws of motion, wrote the Principia and Optiks, and became president of the Royal Society. But he also worked for more than 30 years as the Warden, and then Master, of the Royal Mint. During that time he took charge of the recoining of all the kingdom's money and tracked down counterfeiters.

The book opens with Newton's early li
Stuart Hill
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Victor Tatarskii
Jul 01, 2012 Victor Tatarskii rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A meticulously researched account on prosecution of a mediocre criminal by Newton as Warden of the Mint.
Newton's career as Warden of the Mint, the person responsible for the Great Recoinage of 1696 is of course less known than his physics career, and so his role, as the Warden, in prosecution of counterfeiters is almost unknown to anybody, apart from a small circle of historians. Thomas Levenson does a very nice work in bringing this forgotten page to life in his book. It is centered on prosecut
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