Customer Review

15 of 18 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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