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The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World Paperback – February 7, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

For this narrative of the seventeenth century’s scientific revolution, Dolnick embeds the mathematical discoveries of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Leibniz in the prevailing outlook of their time. God was presumed integral to the universe, so discerning how it worked was a quest as theological as it was intellectual. By directing readers to the deistic drive in their famous achievements, Dolnick accents what otherwise strikes moderns as strange, such as Newton’s obsession with alchemy and biblical hermeneutics. Those pursuits held codes to God’s mind, as did motion and, especially, planetary motion, and Dolnick’s substance follows the greats’ progress in code-breaking, depicting Kepler’s mathematical thought process in devising his laws, Galileo’s in breaking out the vectors of falling objects, Newton’s and Leibniz’s in inventing calculus, and Newton’s in formulating his laws of gravitation. Including apt biographical detail, Dolnick humanizes the group, socializes them by means of their connections to such coevals as the members of the nascent Royal Society, and captures their mental coexistence in mysticism and rationality. A concise explainer, Dolnick furnishes a fine survey introduction to a fertile field of scientific biography and history. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Dolnick’s book is lively and the characters are vivid.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A character-rich, historical narrative.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Edward Dolnick’s smoothly written history of the scientific revolution tells the stories of the key players and events that transformed society.” (Charlotte Observer)

“An engrossing read.” (Library Journal)

“A lively account of early science. . . . Colorful, entertainingly written and nicely paced.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“[Dolnick] offers penetrating portraits of the geniuses of the day . . . who offer fertile ground for entertaining writing. [He] has an eye for vivid details in aid of historical recreation, and an affection for his subjects . . . [An] informative read.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061719528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061719523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Green VINE VOICE on January 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Science and religion are often at odds in today's highly polarized and contentious world, each sneeringly scornful and antagonistic toward the other. Yet that relationship was very different when some of the greatest leaps of scientific understanding occurred. Edward Dolnick gives us excellent and readable biographical profiles of the greats like Galileo and Kepler, Leibniz and Newton as well others who were instrumental in the birth of modern science. He says "Newton's intent in all his work was to make men more pious and devout, more reverent in the face of God's creation. His aim was not that men rise to their feet in freedom but that they fall to their knees in awe." (pg 308)

But this book is about much more than just the religious thoughts of some of history's greatest thinkers. It also profiles the world they lived in, from the superstitions and diseases the people faced to the unsanitary conditions that produced such maladies (and pity those who had access to the doctors!). And it humanizes them (most were pretty ill-tempered) even though they had talents we can only dream of. It also seeks to convey - in layman's terms - a basic understanding of the principles and truths discovered by these geniuses, and why they were so earth-changing.

I read a significant amount of history and you get used to a certain format when opening a book, a format that conveys a certain seriousness. So I was surprised (and even a little disappointed, too) when I saw the larger and heavier font more typical of pulp fiction. But in spite of that it's a very interesting read, particularly for those of us who aren't as familiar with the history of these men or their discoveries.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
God was a mathematician. He designed the world in cosmic codes that only a few men have been able to solve in pieces. Brood over that for a while and then be ready to start a reading adventure with this well-written book.

The year is young and already I have found a book I'd rate as "Best General History book of 2011." This book is that good. Edward Dolnick, who himself is an amateur theoretical mathematician, has a great story to tell that is backed up with documented evidence and a plethora of research. He knows his stuff. He's also an excellent, engaging writer who makes this story of 17th-century scientific geniuses an interesting read. The great part is that you don't have to be a mathematician yourself to enjoy such an entertaining, interesting story, but you may wish you were.

Dolnick takes London of 1665, its stinking, filthy, fecal-infested city streets and turns these rather rancid images into an engrossing story of how Isaac Newton, an ill-tempered and vain man who left Cambridge during a plague outbreak to hide out on his mother's farm, as the setting of this book. Newton, however, wasn't the only one interested in celestial beings or the concept of gravity, motion and speed. There were others in Europe adept at critical thinking who formed what became the Royal Society. The almighty church, however, branded anyone who questioned God's universe as a heretic. Many gifted scientists were killed, others went into hiding. Only the lucky few were able to make themselves heard and live to write about it; Galileo himself died while under house arrest. Thank God for those courageous men or else Dolnick wouldn't have such a fascinating story to tell.

The book is divided into three parts, each focused on a separate theme.
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Format: Hardcover
The year 1660 was a turning point in British political, cultural and intellectual life. The restoration of King Charles II, after eleven brutal years of military dictatorship, awoke a new spirit of vibrancy and optimism in Britain. And one of the earliest yet most enduring results of the new era was the formation of the Royal Society.

It was a heady time and there are heady tales to be told of it, both in history and in fiction. Among the most successful of the latter are Neal Stephenson's three-volume Baroque Cycle, and one suspects that it is their readership whom Edward Dolnick may have had had in mind when writing "The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern Universe".

Dolnick's writing style is immediately engaging; he is good-humoured, possessed of a dry wit and a pleasing turn of phrase. In his presentation of mathematical and scientific ideas, he takes great pains to render them clear to an audience not only of non-specialists but of complete novices. He writes of science like one of those inspirational teachers who can make these things make sense to the least scientific of students.

The book is structured in three parts. The first sets the historical scene of 1660s London - the Restoration, the plague of 1665, the Great Fire, the early work of the Royal Society. Part Two discusses the work of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo and even the ancient Greeks, to provide the scientific context for Newton's discoveries. Part Three focuses on Newton himself, his discoveries in the fields of mathematics, physics and astronomy, and his long-running feud with Leibnitz over the "invention" (sic) of calculus. (Surely mathematical laws are discovered, not invented?
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