Customer Review

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rich overview, November 5, 2004
This review is from: Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World (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.

I wish the author had recommended some further reading, but he does comment on several editions of "Principia" in footnotes.

I find myself re-reading sections as I ponder the concepts. Now that's a book!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 8, 2013 3:40:49 AM PST
Gary Clarke says:
Ah- the "How do I use it?" question, or for me, plodding through 2nd year calculus, "Apart from a few rocket scientists- WHO would ever use it". I never finished either, but I always had suspicions that the subject was much more important than it let on about itself.
Thanks for the review- well done- and it has encouraged me to buy the book. I'm in the Devil's Delusion now, and quite enjoying meeting David as a person.
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