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Newton: Ackroyd's Brief Lives [Kindle Edition]

Peter Ackroyd
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $11.84
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

When Newton was not yet twenty-five years old, he formulated calculus, hit upon the idea of gravity, and discovered that white light was made up of all the colors of the spectrum. By 1678, Newton designed a telescope to study the movement of the planets and published Principia, a milestone in the history of science, which set forth his famous laws of motion and universal gravitation. Newton’s long-time research on calculus, finally made public in 1704, triggered a heated controversy as European scientists accused him of plagiarizing the work of the German scientist Gottfried Leibniz.

In this third volume in the acclaimed Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd provides an engaging portrait of Isaac Newton, illuminating what we think we know about him and describing his seminal contributions to science and mathematics.

A man of wide and eclectic interests, Newton blurred the borders between natural philosophy and speculation: he was as passionate about astrology as astronomy and dabbled in alchemy, while his religious faith was never undermined by his determination to interpret a modern universe as a mathematical universe.

By brining vividly to life a somewhat puritanical man whose desire to experiment and explore bordered on the obsessive, Peter Ackroyd demonstrates the unique brilliance of Newton’s perceptions, which changed our understanding of the world.


From the Hardcover edition.


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.

Review

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.”
Spectator
 
“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: 1030 KB
  • Print Length: 202 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385507992
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (April 15, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0017L8N5K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #669,565 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Newton For Math Dummies 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A model brief life in context May 31, 2008
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Newton in a nutshell October 12, 2008
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief but Refined Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton May 29, 2008
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief, Essential Biography July 11, 2008
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, just excellent.
very well written and engaging. Newton was an interesting person. Terribly brilliant. Well worth the time and it's a quick read.
Published 7 months ago by Dr. M. Casey
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Biography of a Brilliant Man
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. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Alan Lattanner
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
easy to understand and very insightful. tells just enough to make you want to dig for more information. i liked it
Published 18 months ago by lotus1968
4.0 out of 5 stars Good insight into Newton's life
Many interesting insights into Newton's upbringing and later development. His political activities and work at the mint were quite interesting.
Published 22 months ago by Good Food Fan
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite and masterly
This delightul book engages the reader from first sentence to last. Newton's genius, personality, work habits, and accomplishments are presented in prose which is as erudite as it... Read more
Published on July 29, 2012 by Seth M Guggenheim
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing life; excellent biography
Thoroughly researched, beautifully organized, elegantly written, this book is a pleasure to read. Though we may not learn a lot about Newton's science we learn a great deal about... Read more
Published on July 14, 2012 by Peter Geraghty
5.0 out of 5 stars Newton nailed
If you are looking for a brief life of Isaac Newton, this is the one.

Newton is one of the most important men in history and any biography of him is worthy of serious... Read more
Published on June 9, 2012 by Alan Goodwin
5.0 out of 5 stars A great small book ...
Ackroyd's prose always hustles the reader right along, deeper into his subject, and, in Newton, what a subject he found! Read more
Published on May 29, 2012 by John the Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Issac Newton, the focus is on the man not his ideas
I love the sceinces but more important are the men behind their ideas and thought processes. This book very much focuses on this aspect, the man Sir Issac Newton. Read more
Published on May 11, 2010 by Travelling Man
5.0 out of 5 stars a first-rate introduction to Newton
I recently read James Gleick's equally brief Isaac Newton before coming across Ackroyd's book. Given Ackryod's exceptional reputation as a biographer, I thought it would be... Read more
Published on May 5, 2010 by Christopher A. Meli
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