Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0743217767
ISBN-10: 0743217764
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Editorial Reviews Review

Who else could have constructed the basis for modern science out of an apple? Sir Isaac Newton, the celebrated genius behind the Principia Mathematica, lived inside his head--but not so much as to make his story dull. Mathematician and writer David Berlinski takes a new tack on the man's biography by approaching it through his work. Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World does explore Newton's strange childhood and eventual career in government, but it stays largely focused on the Cambridge years and especially on the development of the Principia.

Berlinski's uniquely impressionistic prose is perfect for his subject, whose penchant for withdrawal, depression, and misanthropy has driven many writers to despair. He instead fills the reader with visceral revulsion for the plague and ecstatic delight in a perfect English summer day before turning to intellectual matters. The author's knack for explaining tricky matters of mechanics is awe-inspiring; he moves with ease between captivating metaphor and precise mathematical language. Reading the Principia, even in English translation, is more of a chore than a delight, but Newton's Gift is precisely the opposite. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Isaac Newton (1642-1721) invented or coinvented calculus, discovered gravity and organized physics around mathematical laws. These and other findings in math and optics established him as the great mind of his age. Retiring, introspective and sometimes difficult, he also devoted much of his time to fine points of Christian theology. Known for hit books about math, Berlinski (A Tour of the Calculus; The Advent of the Algorithm) devotes this compact, engaging and readable volume to Newton's life, mind and accomplishments. Mixing snapshots of Sir Isaac's life and times with explanations of what the great man discovered, Berlinski hopes to produce not a detailed biographical record but "a sense of the man" and of how his mind worked. Berlinski's prose adapts with equal ease to historical background and to mathematical explanations: he's sometimes glib, but often a pleasure to read. (The text includes only the barest, most necessary graphs and equations: an appendix goes into greater detail.) The volume draws clean connections between Newton's works and his life, and links both to big questions dear to Berlinski: Did Newton inaugurate two centuries of attempts to explain all of life through math and physics? If he did, how? Are those attempts ending now? And how, exactly, does math relate to physicsAor to anything else in the world? Some readers will engage with Berlinski as he explores these philosophical tangents; others will simply enjoy his explication of Newton, whom Berlinski very plausibly labels "the last great natural philosopher whose vision about the world can be expressed in an intuitive way"Anot to mention "the largest figure in the history of western thought." (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (March 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743217764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743217767
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #626,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Berlinski has created a marvelous intellectual history focusing on the progression of Newton's epic breakthrough thinking. He does this in a way that is totally accessible to those who are phobic about mathematics. The explanations are achieved through a skillful combination of simple sentences, symbols, pictures, and diagrams. The presentation is so effective that most readers will find their understanding of important mathematical and scientific principles greatly improved. This is a great book!
Newton was a seminal thinker in the areas of mathematics (developing calculus), physics (with his propositions about gravity and motion), and optics (with his conceptualization of light as being comprised of particles moving in parallel). He also did much work in theology and alchemy, which are recounted here.
A key challenge for David Berlinski was presented by Newton's reticence. He was not a very social person, and wrote almost nothing about how he developed his ideas. Berlinksi does a magnificent job of locating and sharing hints and clues about the bases of these intuitive leaps. This result is enhanced by considering the continuing themes in Newton's thinking, and assuming a connection to his intuition. I suspect that Berlinski is right in connecting the dots that way, but we will never know for sure.
The centerpiece of our story turns out to be the tangent to a curve. From that humble beginning, most of our modern understanding of how physical motion takes place follows.
I also enjoyed better understanding how Newton's thinking was aided by the careful observations and conclusions of Kepler.
If the history of science were always this entertaining, this subject would be one of the most popular majors in colleges.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ladyfire on November 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Most of us wonder about the things we see around us. "Why is grass green", "Why doesn't a ship sink?", "Why do the planets move?"

Arguably, no one has wondered more fruitfully than Isaac Newton, who produced three revolutionary ideas: gravity, calculus (concurrently with Leibniz), and the particle theory of light.

Serious math & science folks will find this book too elementary. It is also not an exhaustive biography, or a detailed treatment of Newton's ideas. This info is easy to find. Much rarer is a good synthesis view aimed at a popular audience.

For those who never studied math or science beyond college survey courses, this book is a gem. Berlinski provides a rich sense of Newton's personality and times. More importantly, he explains some of the questions Newton asked, how he answered them, and the implications of some of those answers. Berlinski does this in a manner that is engaging without seeming weighty or tedious.

I am a lifelong learner who never finished college. I found math difficult and impenetrable because my central question, "How do I use it" was never answered. With age and experience, I found that I needed math, particularly calculus, to answer many of the practical questions I pondered. I've read a number of books that dealt with what calculus does, but never found a useful explanation of what it IS.

Berlinski shows us how calculus was made possible by Descartes' coordinate system, explores the fundamental questions that led Newton to calculus, and show us how Newton tied it all together. The real gift is that Berlinski does this in a comprehensible way,with concise illustrations and a clear, logical progression. The math is in the Appendix, for those who wish to delve deeper.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on February 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
Isaac Newton is the largest figure in the history of science, the author asserts. His PRINCIPIA brought mathematical physics into existence. Newton was born in 1642 and died in 1727. A posthumous child, he was born the year Galileo died. He had frightening mental powers and mechanical gifts. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1661. The curriculum was Aristotelian and Newton ignored it. He was self-taught in mathematics and natural history. He was excited by Descartes, analytic geometry. After four year at Cambridge, Newton was exiled to the countryside at Woolsthorpe for sixteen months at the time of the plague. He continued his solitary studies. The year spent in isolation was fruitful. Newton used both Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Galileo's laws of freely falling objects. Both Leibnitz and Newton discovered the leading ideas of calculus independently, but the discoveries were not quite comparable.

In 1667 Newton returned to Cambridge, spending twenty-seven year there. His passion for mathematics had exhausted itself. Newton discovered that gravity could be extended to the orb of the moon. At age twenty-seven Newton became the Lucasian professor of mathematics. In the 1670's Newton lectured on white light, (the particle theory of light). In 1670 he designed and made a small reflecting telescope. He was made a member of the Royal Society.

Hooke wrangled with Newton over his theory of color. In 1684 Newton produced ON THE MOTION OF BODIES IN AN ORBIT. Newton spent the next two years composing the PRINCIPIA. He delivered the manuscript to the Royal Society in 1687. It covers Newton's law of inertia, law of acceleration, law of action and reaction, law of absolute time, and law of absolute space.
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