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

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  804 ratings  ·  158 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 the city, r...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 12th 2010 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Trevor
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...more
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
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.

Th...more
John
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
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...more
Eileen Daly-Boas
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
Marsha
Just came in through interlibrary loan...so 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.
Charlie
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...more
Geoffrey Irvin
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...more
Ari
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...more
Diana Sandberg
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
David
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...more
Jeff
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
Jrobertus
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
Stuart Hill
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Josh
Interesting story detailing Newton's career...as 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
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
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.
Jordan Ulmer
For exploring the genius of a mind from roughly four centuries ago this book has an enormous amount of data concerning the late Sir. Isaac Newton ripened to its full potential. But Newton isn’t the only character, with nearly 1/3 of this book devoted to the late counterfeiter William Chaloner. The cessation of this book depicts the overlap of Newton’s and Chaloner’s lives constructing a perplexing “Cat and Mouse chase”. In all the complex plot and perplexing tone derived from the prestigious res...more
Nicola Bugg
I enjoyed this book- I found (as I always do) the economic concepts slightly tricky to get my head around- even though late 17th/early 18th century economics was fairly basic. I loved the description of London- it reminded me of Terry Pratchett's descriptions of 'Ankh Morpork'.
The book starts off at a fairly gentle pace, with descriptions of the early lives of Isaac Newton and William Chaloner, and the pace and interest builds as Newton starts to pursue Chaloner and attempt to bring him to trial...more
Gwern
A quick breezy read good for an evening; Levenson touches on the highlights of Newton's early life & throughout keeps an eye out for the telling detail or quote which might bring the past to life for us, is sympathetic towards the alchemy and tries to put it in a context, and then plunges into Newton's war with an obscure counterfeiter.

This section would make good background reading for Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (despite Levenson's book being published in 2009 and the cycle finished in...more
Joe Informatico
While Sir Isaac Newton's contributions to physics and mathematics are well-known, and his deep involvement with alchemy and the metaphysics of his day (both detailed in this book) fire the imaginations of modern-day mystics, less is heard of the vocation that would eventually earn him his knighthood: Warden (and later Master) of the Royal Mint.

In this historical narrative, Levenson writes the parallel lives of Newton, Warden of the Royal Mint, and William Chaloner, the counterfeiter and career...more
Mickey Hoffman
This book presents Isaac Newton as someone who'd be described nowadays as having bipolar disorder. I don't know if this is an accurate character description or not, but it was interesting. The stuff about the counterfeiting, not so much. There was some technical information about how coins were made and how they were faked but I couldn't really picture the processes. The book needs some illustrations.
The information about the justice system as it was in England at that time was eye-opening. Ap...more
Dana Stabenow
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...more
Gregg
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
Melissa McCauley
I was hoping to love this book, but it took about ten times longer to read than a comparably sized fiction book, and was so dense with information I could only read about a chapter at a time before falling asleep. (Sorry, it’s true)

The first hundred or so pages are a thumbnail sketch of Newton’s life and work - and the author gets my kudos for distilling it down, as there have been possibly millions of pages written about Sir Isaac Newton and his monumental accomplishments. The remainder of the...more
Scott Lake
Isaac Newton. We engineers know him as a father of the Calculus, as well as discovering and writing equations of motion that we now take for granted. What would we do without F=ma?

In this moving account of Newton's life, we learn that Newton had a couple of other careers: 1. A secret career devoted to alchemy, 2. The Warden of the Royal Mint in London.

Levenson takes us through the accounting of Newton's mathematical and scientific discoveries, then gives us his time as a devotee to alchemy and f...more
Joy
My father-in-law recommended this book to me last Christmas, and just a few days ago I got around to buying it for my Kindle. It is a fantastic read about Isaac Newton and specifically about a little-known part of his career as Warden of the Mint for England. Newton's life is covered briefly in the beginning, with a good review of his time at Cambridge and his work on the [i]Principia[/i], with some fascinating discussion about not only his physics and philosophy but also his interests in alchem...more
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
Mike
Oct 27, 2012 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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