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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: #515,965 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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
This is the third in the series of "Brief Lives" written by Peter Ackroyd, the distinguished author of "London: The Biography" and "Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination." It is one of the new compact but thorough book treatments that have recently become popular (it runs a mere 170 small pages, not including index). I have marveled in past Amazon reviews at these concise books how much information a skilled and knowledgeable author can pack into a brief space, and this book is no exception. Ackroyd covers all of Newton's life (1642-1727). It is the perfect book for folks like me that have heard a lot about Newton, but are not inclined to want to read one of the longer biographies now available (e.g., that by James Gleick). The author wisely chooses not to probe too deeply into Sir Isaac's mathematical and scientific accomplishments, which is perfect for the general reader, but he offers enough insight so that the reader is aware generally of what Newton is up to and why he is such a giant in the history of science and enlightenment. His invention of calculus, study of optics, celestial mechanics, gravity and so much more are all concisely covered. One learns all sorts of interesting things about Newton, who certainly was not a conventional academic: his interests in alchemy; astrology; and arcane religious concepts to name just a few. Interestingly, Newton spent the bulk of his career not as an academic but as Warden of the Mint, which allowed him to amass quite an estate. If this be an example of "knowledge in a nutshell," let it be: it accomplishes it purpose superbly.
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Format: Hardcover
Eventually humans understood that there were physical laws that governed the universe, and that these laws could be made mathematically precise and could be verified. No one person enabled this understanding more than Isaac Newton, who obsessively tracked down laws of motion, gravity, optics, and pure mathematics. Since his death almost three hundred years ago, there have been many biographies attempting the impossible task of explaining Newton's unparalleled genius. In _Newton_ (Nan A. Talese), Peter Ackroyd has made no such attempt. For one thing, his book is part of his "Brief Lives" series (Chaucer and Turner have gone before), and it is a small volume. For another, Ackroyd has not described many of Newton's scientific achievements in detail; the account of his _Principia Mathematica_ is almost cursory. But the brevity of the volume is actually one of its strengths. We aren't going to understand genius, but we can understand some of the personality, and Ackroyd has done a wonderful job in describing what sort of a person Newton was. Of necessity, the portrait is unpleasant. Newton was among the most unlikeable of geniuses, but it might well be that if he had been less arrogant and selfish, he might have accomplished less.

An uncle saved Newton from being a farmer, enabling him to continue schooling and go to Cambridge. Ironically, he became a professor at Trinity College, while his religious studies led him to abhor the concept of the Trinity. He was certain that the priests and bishops who preached a Trinity were practicing idolatry. He was particularly interested in biblical chronology and prophecy, working out a date for creation half a century later than the famous 2004 BC of Bishop Ussher, and attempting precise calculation of the date of Jesus's return to Earth.
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