Tony Gleeson's Reviews > The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick
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's review
Jul 11, 2011

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

Another serendipitous discovery: months ago I was browsing at it in a bookstore and lo and behold, my wife included it in her birthday presents to me! This is a fairly lightweight but fun overview of many of the great "natural philosophers"-- i.e. scientists-- of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, notably Isaac Newton. Dolnick brings them to life with nicely done personal "sketches" and a description of the times, beliefs, and mores. I especially love his admonition that while we tend to think of Newton and his contemporaries as people very much like us: "But they were NOT like us!" While he perhaps takes overly long to get past his introduction of the time and social structure, not to mention the preliminary descriptions of the founding of the Royal Society, he quickly makes up for that in his cogent and simple descriptions of some pretty heavy ideas. I was especially taken by his description of how Newton intuited the concept of an orbit (he makes it sound so simple!) or how he developed the calculus. His descriptions of the personal quirks, rivalries and downright enmities among some of these giants-- Liebniz, Newton, Hooke, Boyle, Halley, etc.-- makes for entertaining reading. Indeed, these guys were NOT like us. Well, maybe in some ways, they really were........

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