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194 of 202 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Piece of Work is Isaac Newton
I'm not a mathematician; I'm not even much good at arithmetic. Once when trying to count backward from 100 by 7's I started with 97, went to 93, and gave up. Of course I was lying in a hospital bed, but even at my best I wouldn't have gotten far. I tell you this because I approached "Isaac Newton," by James Gleick expecting to read the introduction, pick up a few...
Published on May 22, 2003 by Richard Wells

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed introduction
This is quite an odd book, both illuminating and not. The work is narrowly focused on Newton's life, or rather what Gleick considers especially important moments in Newton's life. He discusses only glancingly the tumultuous events of the seventeenth century, and there is little of the social history of science that today is exemplified by Steve Shapin's work. There is...
Published on December 21, 2010 by J. Leedom


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194 of 202 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Piece of Work is Isaac Newton, May 22, 2003
By 
Richard Wells (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
I'm not a mathematician; I'm not even much good at arithmetic. Once when trying to count backward from 100 by 7's I started with 97, went to 93, and gave up. Of course I was lying in a hospital bed, but even at my best I wouldn't have gotten far. I tell you this because I approached "Isaac Newton," by James Gleick expecting to read the introduction, pick up a few bits-and-bobs, and bail out. What a surprise to find myself reading even while walking to the bus stop. Thank you, Mr. Gleick for a fascinating biography that doesn't bog down in numbers, but still imparts the scientific information salient to Mr. Newton's life.
Isaac Newton was a piece of work. A scientist, but also a student of biblical prophecy; a chemist, but also an alchemist; a public figure as well as something of a recluse; a fountain of learning who refused to publish. Isaac Newton was a man of his times, and Mr. Gleick points out the very interesting paradox that Newton lived in a pre-Newtonian world. Of course he would be filled with contradictions. Even so, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Newton's contemporary and a philosopher/mathematician in his own right who found himself at odds with Newton by independently inventing differential and integral calculus, told the Queen of Prussia that "in mathematics there was all previous history, from the beginning of the world, and then there was Newton; and that Newton's was the better half."
If you would like a better understanding of the laws of nature we take for granted, and an understanding of the life and times of the complicated man who formulated them for us, then I recommend this highly readable (and mathematically understandable) biography.
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78 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Scientific Genius, July 9, 2003
By 
Timothy Haugh (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
First off, let me say that I am a great admirer of Isaac Newton. Einstein is who he is and deserves every accolade put upon him but, in my opinion, humankind has never produced a scientific genius as great as Newton. He understood the world in a way that has never been equaled before or since.
That being said, let me also say that this is a very good biography of Newton. It is brief so it is easily digestible by anyone. Still, what is lacks in depth it makes up for in coverage. We get glimpses of many parts of Newton's life, from his obsessive questioning and scientific investigation of the plague/fire years through his hiding-in-plain-sight years at Trinity through the renown of his London years as President of the Royal Society and Warden of the Mint.
Gleick also does not shy away from the less understandable parts of Newton's nature--his hypersensitivity to criticism, his theological struggles and his relentless alchemical investigations. Though, as this biography makes clear, even his ability to achieve his well-known and -respected triumphs in mathematics and physics really defy understanding. Let's face it, there is something about genius that is beyond any kind of clarity for those of us not touched by it.
Anyone interested in a quick look at an amazing man should read this book. I would also suggest taking the time to follow the many endnotes that Gleick has provided. Unlike many notes of this type, these are very readable and add to the text, though some probably could have been added right to the body of the text without much interruption of the flow. In any case, Gleick has written a fine book about a true genius.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Figure Newton, May 23, 2003
This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
I though Galileo's Daughter was the best book I read last year, and this one is a close second. Only James Gleick has the self-confidence and skill to synthesize the life of Newton down to 191 succinct and fascinating pages. The average author, full of himself, would probably write about 1,191 pages and you wouldn't be able to lift the book. This is a masterpiece of time, space, light and color. A reader in motion will tend to remain in motion. It was just great, I read it in one sitting. I hope this starts a trend!
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World Was Never The Same, September 4, 2003
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
Few would deny that Sir Issac Newton was a singularly important man in the history of both science and mathematics. His two best-known accomplishments, the invention of the calculus and a theory of gravity which accurately predicted the motions of the planets, have done much to shape the world in which we now live. Despite the incredible advances made by others in the ensuing centuries, the world view of the average educated person is still best described as "Newtonion." I believe we must go as far back as the golden age of the ancient Greeks to find a revolution in world view that is possibly comparable to that created by Newton.
Gleick's short biography is a superb introduction to the man and his times. It is not overly technical and the lay reader should not worry about much going over his/her head. Gleick has done again what he seems to do best: he has taken a difficult subject and made it accessible to a wide audience. He did that in his books about chaos theory and the life of physicist Richard Feynman, and he has done it again with this biography of Isaac Newton.
The author emphasizes Newton's human side, which is bizarre enough to satisfy even the most jaded reader. Newton was not a social man, frequently quarreled with other scientists, was reticent about publicizing his discoveries, and more than dabbled in alchemy. He lived as if possessed by some personal demon who denied him the ordinary comforts and pleasures of life.
I disagree with an earlier review that complained about the brevity of this book. I found it to be just about right, and well-written. There are ample references for those who wish to learn more about Isaac Newton. On the other hand, if you simply feel that you should know the essentials about the life of the man who shaped our modern view of the world, this book should serve that need well.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed introduction, December 21, 2010
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Paperback)
This is quite an odd book, both illuminating and not. The work is narrowly focused on Newton's life, or rather what Gleick considers especially important moments in Newton's life. He discusses only glancingly the tumultuous events of the seventeenth century, and there is little of the social history of science that today is exemplified by Steve Shapin's work. There is also a strange quality to the discussion of what Newton actually discovered. Gleick has the outline right, but the details are murky: to be honest, I'm not certain that he can follow Newton's math--no dishonor there--and so he doesn't explain it well. A better choice would be one of Richard Westfall's books on Newton.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A universal mind, July 12, 2004
This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
With almost poetic grace, Gleick portrays the life and thinking of history's most expansive mind. Works on Newton aren't as common as might be expected. The task of addressing such a monumental mentality is formidable, to say the least. Only the most ambitious or analytical could attempt it. Gleick's effort encompasses the major facets of Newton's life, including his academic, political and religious aspects. He avoids the modern approach of delving into Newton's psyche or recapitulating three centuries of scholarly disputation. Even the "falling apple" story is redrawn as Newton's realisation that apparent size compared with distance expressed a relationship needing explanation. The result is a clean, unobstructed view of a complex man - and his legacy.
From meagre beginnings Newton carved an expansive niche in European scholarship. His skills, noted early, brought him a Cambridge appointment at 27. Already showing great promise, he was a reluctant publisher. He sequestered himself in his rooms, later in a small cottage. He'd lived almost alone during his childhood, but his curiosity led him in many directions. The prism experiments, breaking sunlight with a prism, began his long career in what is now deemed "physics". Light's properties were the subject of great dispute, with Newton holding to emitted particles. Waves seemed to adhere to the Cartesian "vortices" which Newton found suspect. Playing with mirrors and lenses led to the reflecting telescope widely used today. Thinking about the heavenly bodies he observed led, of course, to his idea of gravitational attraction. Not a popular idea then, since such forces were disdained.
It's difficult to assess whether his delving into the facts of nature led to his personal isolation, or the reverse holds. Gleick shows how Newton focussed on problems with an intensity few have demonstrated. Even in employment as Warden of the Mint, Newton pursued counterfeiters with a Rambo-like dedication - even accompanying culprits to the gallows. His brief stint as a Member of Parliament, however, was virtually silent. He was perturbed by his developing scepticism of the Holy Trinity - this while teaching at the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Cambridge University. These thoughts, too, he kept closely concealed. Only the dispute over gravity with Robert Hooke brought him reluctantly forth.
Although Newton's accomplishments were vast, Gleick relates how the great thinker understood he was only uncovering beginnings. Even those beginnings, however, were deemed "mechanistic" by the later Romantics - a label applied to science even today. Gleick rebuts this hostile view in his conclusion. However Newton's personality is viewed, his accomplishments readily surpass puerile complaints. Without him, Gleick reminds us, much of today's world would not exist. Cassini would not be orbiting Saturn, returning its amazing images to us, without him.
This book isn't highly detailed, and that's right and proper. Massive volumes of Newton's life already exist. Gleick has provided a tasteful and effective teaser for those wishing to learn more of this amazing man. He's even provided images of some of Newton's notes and observations imparting the flavour of Newton's thinking. Start here, you will not be disappointed. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Writer..., July 23, 2003
By 
Matthew Coleman (fairfield, ct USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
Man, can this guy write! I already knew a lot about Newton, so I'm not sure how a newbie will find it, but Gleick's writing just carried me along and I couldn't put it down. I'm not surprised, having read Chaos and his biography of Feynman (if you haven't caught these, you really should). Mr. Gleick, please keep 'em coming..........
Of course, the author did not intend this 200-page book to be a detailed scientific biography - if that's what you want, then Westfall is the place to look.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Q.E.D., June 24, 2003
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
This book demonstrates that biography is no exception to the adage that brevity is the soul of wit. Gleick divides this short but comprehensive biography into short chapters that respectively address each aspect of Newton's work: the calculus, the laws of gravity and motion, optics, alchemy, theology and so on. Moreover, each chapter succinctly but vividly describes the phase in Newton's life in which that work was performed and finally published, so that the reader moves chronologically through Newton's life while examining each of his monumental achievements. In 188 pages (not counting the informative, pertinent footnotes) Gleick tells the story of Newton's life, describes (but,thankfully, does not try to explain) his peculiar personality, sets out, in layman's terms, the basics of his most important discoveries, and places those discoveries in their social and historical context. Other biographers should take heed; readers with an interest in science and intellectual history should hasten to buy this book!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but not great., February 2, 2007
This review is from: Isaac Newton (Paperback)
Most of the reviews of this book seem to be reviews of Newton, not the book. To be sure, Newton is one of the most influential scientists who ever lived, but that is not the point. Rather, the point is how good is this book? I liked the book, but not as much as I had hoped to. I found the book to be somewhat flat and un-exciting, the same impression it gives of Newton's life. There are areas of Newton's life that could have been presented more dramatically, most specifically his conflict with Robert Hooke. The author paints Hooke as one of those people who claim to have done everything before anyone else. In this book, he is depicted as a blowhard, but in other accounts his claims are given much more weight. (For instance, see "The Scientists" by John Gribbin.) Another point of contention is exactly how indispensable was Newton. Had he not lived, how long would it have taken for others to discover what he did? Being a biography of Newton, it is not surprising that he is painted as being indispensable. Again, this is a point of contention, not hinted at in this book. Much of what Newton did was also done by others (calculus was developed at the same time by Leibniz and it is his version that we use today, not Newton's). Newton could not have formulated gravity without the work of Kepler, Galileo, and Descartes. Gribbin believes that within a decade of Newton's death others could have used this same background to develop "Newton's laws". The point is not whether Gleick or Gribbin is right, but that Gleick does not even acknowledge that this controversy exists.

All in all, the book lays out the scope of Newton's life (including the fact that he spent much of the latter part of his life as an alchemist), but in a rather unexciting manner. The important areas of controversy, which aim to evaluate Newton's position in the pantheon of great scientists, are not even broached. I think that such a discussion would have enriched the book and broadened the outlook of the reader, so that Newton would not be just "the man", but rather a man among many.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing for a big fan of Genius by Gleick, February 28, 2004
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This review is from: Isaac Newton (Hardcover)
I loved Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, "Genius". So my expectations for this book on possibly the most important mathematical and scientific figure were very high. I was somewhat disappointed. This biography is a little short and seemed to need a little more meat. I did not feel that truly made the reader understand the importance of Newton's accomplishments. I thought there was a little too much on Newton's forays into other fields like philosophy, etc. Also a little too much on the political fights with other scientists and mathematicians.
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Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton by James Gleick (Hardcover - May 13, 2003)
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