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Newton: Ackroyd's Brief Lives Kindle Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Length: 202 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While the prolific Ackroyd (London, among many others), in this addition to his Brief Lives series, doesn't provide new insights into one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, he does present a well-written distillation of the life and accomplishments of Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Newton's scientific achievements are legend, from the creation of calculus to the formulation of the theory of gravity. Ackroyd asserts that the devout Newton, acting largely alone, institutionalized modern scientific method by demanding data and experimentation rather than supernatural explanations based in belief. Even though Newton studied alchemy, it was always within the construct of science, says Ackroyd. The biographer presents the other side of Newton as well: his quirky personality, the insecurity that made it difficult for him to tolerate any criticism and kept him from publishing many of his ideas for extended periods. And he shows how Newton, a loner as a young man, left the isolation of Cambridge University for London and the public sphere as master of the mint and president of the prestigious Royal Society. The vindictive Newton held extended grudges for slights, real or imagined, and Ackroyd summarizes the decades-long disputes with Robert Hooke and Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed. In short, Ackroyd does a commendable job in this introduction to a very complex genius. Illus. (Apr. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Newton is both impeccably researched and a wonderful read. An afternoon in the backyard hammock with ‘the grand autocrat of science.’”
Los Angeles Times

“[Ackroyd] may well be the most prolific English author of his generation. And, which I find encouraging, he can write movingly and revealingly about Isaac Newton while being no more of a scientist or mathematician than I am.”
–Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

“Astute and beautifully written…. Not surprisingly, the prolific Mr. Ackroyd, who is the author of 12 novels as well as biographies of Dickens, Thomas More, and Shakespeare–not to mention at least four histories of London–excels at re-creating the look and feel, at once grubby and exalted, of Newton's milieu. And Newton the man comes through splendidly in all the sheer arrogance of his driven genius.”
The New York Sun

“The brief life of Newton meets a widespread need…. Ackroyd’s writing is a great pleasure to read.”
The New Criterion

“A terrific piece of work… this is a wonderfully writerly book, never less than elegant in construction and execution.”
“Written in splendidly elastic prose, each sentence a springboard for the next, it provides a concise, fair and highly readable biography of a singular genius'.”
The Times

“Ackroyd's essay on [Newton] is understated and elegantly constructed.”
The Guardian

“Beautifully written and engaging.”
BBC History

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1233 KB
  • Print Length: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (April 15, 2008)
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2008
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0017L8N5K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,229 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Golding on June 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Isaac Newton is someone I've been curious about since grade school when some teacher gave me the impression that he discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head. Even then, that didn't make much sense to me--people must have been aware of gravity since the first caveman dropped a rock on his foot--and I was pleased to learn through Peter Ackroyd's wonderful book that the apple incident probably never happened. What Newton did do through careful observation and applied mathematics was to prove the existence of universal gravity and show the laws which governed it. There is much more that Newton accomplished of course: His work on optics was seminal. His three laws of motion are still quoted in physics' classes. And his great book on the principles of mathematics was a wonder of his age.

All of this, Ackroyd explains in a conversational style that even someone like myself who has trouble adding up a supermarket bill can understand. But Ackroyd does not neglect Newton's human side. He was not, in many ways, a very nice person: A control freak who was always ready to take disagreement personally, he had few real friends and often broke up with those he did have. His life-long passion for alchemy and his belief in the Arian heresy made this already secretive man even more secretive.

Ackroyd's book is short, sweet and not annotated. It is surely not for scholars. But for those who want to pay a brief visit to a scientific genius in the company of a wise and entertaining guide could do far worse than to read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous book. It both explains Newton's development as a human being and as one of the greatest scientific thinkers and experimenters of his or any era. Carefully and clearly written, it is a total success. I enjoyed it far more than James Gleick's NEWTON, perhaps because Ackroyd is so good at explaining what he knows how to explain and avoiding what he does not know how to explain. As he notes, neither Newton nor anyone else in his era could explain gravity -- but Newton was able to explain the laws governing gravity and thus provide a foundation for later scientists, notably Einstein, to go further and explain gravity. Ackroyd is also wonderfully skilled at explaining links between Newton's occult studies and his scientific studies. All in all, a must read for anyone who wants to understand a pivotal thinker.
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Format: Hardcover
The audience for this book is really quite large. Adult readers who know little of Newton and young readers interested in a manageable first encounter will find Peter Ackroyd's text perfectly suited to their needs. Let me mention a few items from this book that caught my attention. First, Newton from a young age appeared to be gifted mechanically; not "mechanics" as an abstraction, but the actual business of building and constructing devices. Second, it would have been next to impossible to predict greatness from Newton based on his family line. Third, Newton appears to have suffered a mental breakdown of sorts at one point in his life. Fourth, Newton worked to balance two, somewhat contradictory impulses: he was reclusive and, at the same time, sought public respect. Finally, even an intellect of Newton's stature could not resist becoming mired in petty quarrels, as witnessed by his running confrontations with the Royal Astronomer. Ackroyd's Newton offers a nice return to readers willing to invest a small amount of time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ackroyd's prose always hustles the reader right along, deeper into his subject, and, in Newton, what a subject he found! This edition, one of the series of Brief Lives, by Doubleday, is a joy to hold and read, with hard board covers and hand-cut pages, fitting into the hand as sweetly as Ackroyd's writing.

Newton, a middle-class lad destined for agricultural life, inheriting a small holding from his farmer father, astounded all with his inherent genius. True to the lore, it was apparent very early in his life, sustained throughout it, and undisputed still. Shy, reclusive yet aware of himself and his own genius, Newton spent most of his life bound within his college. Reluctant to publish his astounding conclusions, rejecting wider fame because others may dispute his findings, he somehow became famous ... but few dared to offer contentions for his deductions and hypothesis.

A great little book about an enormous mind and an enormous service to mankind - "if I have served the publik interest it is only through hard work" he said.

Perhaps, but ably assisted by an intelligence that still reigns supreme.
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Format: Hardcover
A great author is invisible to the reader, to paraphrase the late Elmore Leonard. Peter Ackroyd's "Newton" is such an engaging biography that I nearly forgot I was reading a book. The life story of the exceptional Isaac Newton simply flows from the pages.

A minor exception to this flowing prose is a certain aloofness of phrase taints Ackroyd's descriptions in the earliest chapters. That melts away quickly as the story moves from Newton's youth to his university days and beyond.

The book is organized into 19 chapters that mirror the chronology of Newton's life. Near the middle of the book there is a good set of illustrations showing portraits of several of Newton's contemporaries, key places like his birthplace, and more.

My favorite aspect of this book is Ackroyd's ability to select observations and events that clearly illustrate Isaac Newton's unique character from earliest childhood. For example, as a boy he built ingenious "toys" like a working clock, a self-propelled cart, and Isaac's dial, a sundial that villagers relied upon. This method continues throughout the book so that the reader feels like he or she is Newton's contemporary rather than an observer of some ancient historical figure.

I wonder why we do not introduce our children in school to the great men and women of history through brief biographies like this one? This book makes me want to learn so much more about Newton, to read his Principia and Optics books, and more detailed biographies about the man. I rate this book five stars for its succinct portrait of a complex man who used his powers of observation and reason to make sense of the universe and document his findings for the world, as none before him had done.
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