William's Reviews > Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton by James Gleick
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Dec 16, 10

Read in August, 2010

With Isaac Newton, James Gleick once again reasserts his credentials as a scientific historian and writer of the first rank, as well as winning the National Book Award, and as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But rather than concentrate on the likes of the father of Quantum Electrodynamics, the late Richard Feynman, or the originator of fractal geometry, Benoît Mandelbrot, Gleick's focus in this book is on Sir Isaac Newton, whose works on optics, and the creation of differential and integral calculus, allowed scientists to accurately describe and predict the motion of the planets in our solar system through the force of gravity. The mechanics of gravity as described by Newton are the foundation for physics and natural philosophy.

Gleick, with great erudition and clarity on his subject, but unlike his other works, with tremendous conciseness, presents Newton's nearly impoverished upbringing, early schooling, and his transformation from a reclusive and excentric observational scientist and theoretician, to a single force and beast that transformed the Royal Society, and later by appointment from the King of England, the Royal Mint. We also see the range of Newton's personal relationships with colleagues, supporters and rivals, from the likes of Sir Edmond Halley, to the reluctant correspondences with compatriot Robert Hooke, and fierce exchanges with the co-creator of calculus, Gottfried Leibniz. The portrait of Newton penned by Gleick is not one that casts Newton in a distorted forward-looking and modern scientist, but as an individual obsessed with the pursuits and techniques of alchemy of the ancients. Also illustrated is Newton as a philosopher and scholar of theology of great earnestness, who undertook with tremendous scrutiny, a rigorous review of early manuscripts of both the Old and New Testament to form an unorthodox and borderline heretical view of the trinity in Christianity.

In this masterfully crafted biography, Gleick makes accessible and understandable one of the intellectual giants in the history of science a compelling read.
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