Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Synopsis

Quarrelsome and quirky, a disheveled recluse who ate little, slept less, and yet had an iron constitution, Isaac Newton rose from a virtually illiterate family to become one of the towering intellects of science. Now, in this fast-paced, colorful biography, Gale E. Christianson paints an engaging portrait of Newton and the times in which he lived. We follow Newton from his childhood in rural England to his student days at Cambridge, where he devoured the works of Copernicus, Kepler,and Galileo, and taught himself mathematics. There ensued two miraculous years at home in Woolsthorpe Manor, where he fled when plague threatened Cambridge, a remarkably fertile period when Newton formulated his theory of gravity, a new theory of light, and calculus--all by his twenty-fourth birthday. Christianson describes Newton's creation of the first working model of the reflecting telescope, which brought him to the attention of the Royal Society, and he illuminates the eighteen months of intense labor that resulted in his Principia, arguably the most important scientific work ever published. The book sheds light on Newton's later life as master of the mint in London, where he managed to convict and hang the arch criminal William Chaloner (a remarkable turn for a once reclusive scholar), and his presidency of the Royal Society, which he turned from a dilettante's club into an eminent scientific organization. Christianson also explores Newton's less savory side, including his long,bitter feud with Robert Hooke and the underhanded way that Newton established his priority in the invention of calculus and tarnished Liebniz's reputation. Newton was an authentic genius with all too human faults. This book captures both sides of this truly extraordinary man.

Excerpt

At once mortal and immortal, Isaac Newton wsa both a living, breathing man and a legend that forever changed the world. Yet so reclusive was he at his most creative that his biographers have succeeded in viewing him only through a glass darkly. During a rare moment of introspection, Newton once compared himself to a boy playing on a seashore, casting about for a few beautiful pebbles that he likened to his greatest discoveries. It is worth noting, however, that even this simple metaphor is misleading. While Newton’s home was an island, he never set eyes on the open sea beyond the fens until well after he had grown to manhood. Neither, so far as is known, did he seriously entertain the idea of taking in the wonders of the Continent only a short sail away, or of communing with Europe’s foremost scientific minds.

Newton was a loner pure and simple, secure in the knowledge that he was without peers when it came to almost all matters cerebral. The only person who knew him well was his enigmatic chamber fellow John Wickins, who lived with him when he was formulating the calculus, conducting his brilliantly counterintuitive prism experiments, and undergoing his earliest intimations of gravity. When the two men finally parted company after sharing the same lodgings at Cambridge University for some twenty years, Wickins married and moved away to become a . . .

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