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Isaac Newton Paperback – June 8, 2004
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As a schoolbook figure, Isaac Newton is most often pictured sitting under an apple tree, about to discover the secrets of gravity. In this short biography, James Gleick reveals the life of a man whose contributions to science and math included far more than the laws of motion for which he is generally famous. Gleick's always-accessible style is hampered somewhat by the need to describe Newton's esoteric thinking processes. After all, the man invented calculus. But readers who stick with the book will discover the amazing story of a scientist obsessively determined to find out how things worked. Working alone, thinking alone, and experimenting alone, Newton often resorted to strange methods, as when he risked his sight to find out how the eye processed images:
.... Newton, experimental philosopher, slid a bodkin into his eye socket between eyeball and bone. He pressed with the tip until he saw 'severall white darke & coloured circles'.... Almost as recklessly, he stared with one eye at the sun, reflected in a looking glass, for as long as he could bear.
From poor beginnings, Newton rose to prominence and wealth, and Gleick uses contemporary accounts and notebooks to track the genius's arc, much as Newton tracked the paths of comets. Without a single padded sentence or useless fact, Gleick portrays a complicated man whose inspirations required no falling apples. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Gleick's most renowned writing falls into one of two categories: vivid character studies or broad syntheses of scientific trends. Here, he fuses the two genres with a biography of the man who was emblematic of a new scientific paradigm, but this short study falls a bit short on both counts. The author aims to "ground this book as wholly as possible in its time; in the texts," and his narrative relies heavily on direct quotations from Newton's papers, extensively documented with more than 60 pages of notes. While his attention to historical detail is impressive, Gleick's narrative aims somewhere between academic and popular history, and his take on Newton feels a bit at arms-length, only matching the vibrancy of his Feynman biography at moments (particularly when describing Newton's disputes with such competitors as Robert Hooke or Leibniz). As might be expected, Gleick's descriptions of Newton's scientific breakthroughs are clear and engaging, and his book is strongest when discussing the shift to a mathematical view of the world that Newton championed. In the end, this is a perfectly serviceable overview of Newton's life and work, and will bring this chapter in the history of science to a broader audience, but it lacks the depth one hopes for from a writer of Gleick's abilities.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Top customer reviews
Newton was a scientist and thinker of nearly unparalleled brilliance and achievement, so there are many ways one could write his biography. Gleick chooses the tack of going with moderate length, and nicely balancing elements of Newton's personal history, personality, metaphysical assumptions, scientific methodology, scientific work, mathematical work, alchemical work, theological work, and relationships with colleagues. For me, this biography is as close to perfect as one could ask for.
I particularly like Gleick's detailed descriptions of how Newton and others wrestled to define their basic terms and concepts in conjunction with marshalling all sorts of evidence and arguments in order to propose and defend a variety of hypotheses and theories. In that sense, this book superbly describes the difficult birth of the paradigm of classical physics, featuring Newton as the lead character during this pivotal historical period.
After reading this biography, what are we to make of Newton? First of all, without a doubt, he was a genius at a level that few of us can scarcely comprehend, but he was still human, so he had his intellectual limitations and didn't always get things right. Secondly, he was a lonely figure, perhaps in part because of his upbringing. He was raised without a father and was distant from his mother, grew up poor (and died wealthy), had no wife or children (and apparently was a virgin), had no genuinely close friends, and routinely had strained relationships with his colleagues, sometimes to the point of bitter acrimony. All of this isolation may have focused his energy in a way that fundamentally contributed to his scientific acheivements, so one wonders what would have become of Newton (and world history) if he had lived a more "normal" life ...
Anyway, I very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Newton, science, physics, mathematics, early modern history, etc. The only real prerequisite I see is having at least a vague recollection of high-school physics. Also, the unabridged audiobook is narrated very smoothly and engagingly (with a British accent) by Alan Corduner, so don't hesitate to give that a try. I envision returning this biography in the future whenever I need a dose of inspiration.
This is a brief, in fact very brief story of Isaac Newton. Minus notes at the back it is less than 200 pages. I'd say this is a bare minimum when discussing both Newton's life and his work. It's interesting, moves quickly but for one looking for a bit more explanation on Newton's work with gravity, calculus, work at the Royal Society or the English Mint I thought it could have been a bit more thoughtful or deeply researched.
Nonetheless it moved the needle for me as a curiosity seeker to continue to read and discover the great people who've shaped our world!
The CD explains the cooperation and / or rivalry between Newton and other famous scientists, mathematicians and philosophers of his era. So the listener also learns about how Descartes, Bacon, Huygens, Leibniz,Locke, Hook and many others approached the same issues. The conformity and discrepancies between Newton's and these other thinkers' opinions and methodologies about various physics and mathematics topics and their views of the universe are analyzed. Sometimes differences of opinion have led to personal rivalries between Newton and some of them.
Nevertheless, Newton is one of the greatest men whose works have shaped mankind's understanding of the universe. This audio CD clearly makes us understand his contributions. It is not an abstract explanation of Newton and other scientists' theories alone but a practical application of these theories in interpreting our universe. It is made clear that subsequent works by other scientists such as the General Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein that challenged Newton's interpretation of the universe, absolute time and space have not belittled Newton's contributions. On the contrary, Newton's ideas developed more than 250 years ago were and still are a great stepping stone that led to the development of subsequent scientific theories like those of Einstein.