- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 9, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199951047
- ISBN-13: 978-0199951048
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.8 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton's Manuscripts 1st Edition
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"[W]e find in Sarah Dry's fascinating book not only a life and times of Newton's papers personified, but also several smaller biographies of the flesh-and-blood characters involved in the story of these papers, who prove to be every bit as interesting and colorful as the manuscripts they sought, preserved, and studied."--Renaissance Quarterly
"In this brilliantly crafted and absorbing book, Sarah Dry traces the fate of Newton's manuscripts, through the hands of disciples and enemies, collectors and businessmen, scholars and eccentrics, from familiar heroes of the sciences, including David Brewster, George Stokes, John Maynard Keynes and Albert Einstein, to the lesser-known figures who played such decisive roles in the life of these invaluable documents. The Newton Papers works its appeal both as an indispensable guide to the making of a towering reputation and to the fascinating energies of cunning detective work through the centuries."--Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge
"A delightful exploration of Newton's wandering manuscripts' legacy, with an unexpected bonus: a fascinating and insightful account of Sir Isaac's evolving reputation."--Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and author of The Book Nobody Read
"Research into Newton's papers has not only transformed our sense of him, but did much to boost the field of history of science. Sarah Dry's book makes us appreciate the twists and turns by which the papers came down to us, and in the process offers a fascinating account of how attitudes about what can be learned from such collections of private, unpublished material have evolved over the centuries."--George E. Smith, Tufts University
"The fascinating saga of Newton's Papers illuminates a battle waged across several centuries over the legacy and image of England's greatest man of science. At stake was evidence, truth, rationality, religious belief, national pride, but also the physical ownership of Newton's material and intellectual remnants. Sarah Dry has crafted a wonderful canvas, stretching across several continents and peopled by myriad scientists and popularizers, collectors and politicians, aristocratic families and impoverished relatives. This is a beautifully written book, sure to please and captivate the connoisseur and novice alike."--Diana Kormos-Buchwald, The Einstein Papers Project, California Institute of Technology
"An engaging narrative of the fortunes of the towering mathematician's Nachlass--his
private papers... Dry is to be congratulated for furnishing us with a fresh and readable chronicle of the tortuous route that Newton's manuscript took to being made public--ostensibly in accordance with the wishes of the great man."--Mordechai Feingold, Nature
About the Author
Sarah Dry is the author of Curie: A Life and has also written on epidemics, global health, and the history of meteorology. She is a former research fellow at the London School of Economics and the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex.
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Dry presents the cultural context clearly. Why? Since Dry is covering centuries of reactions to Newton and these papers, she understands the preconceived ideas of the people drive their decisions about Newton's papers. She does an excellent job of explaining the changing motives of the players. I enjoyed the insight into European intellectual history.
(The book - ''Newton - A Short Introduction'' by Rod Iliffe, Dry's husband, is a good compliment to this work.)
Starts with Newton's death and details the various relatives who inherited his papers and the different reactions. Traces the travels and places in an interesting way. Explains the reaction of different ones to Newton's anti-trinitarian opinion. Some shocked and some thrilled.
Covers Newton's habits and personality as revealed in these papers . . .
"His abilities weren't limited to his tremendous mathematical skill or his far- reaching insights into physics and optics but encompassed something more fundamental: the capacity to critically interrogate a text and take notes that formed the basis for his own, innovative research." (Page 18)
This ability was used in his research into christianty. His notes were "complex and contentious material, but it boiled down to this: Newton believed that in the fourth century A.D . early Church fathers had inserted the pernicious fiction into Church doctrine that Christ was an equal partner in the Holy Trinity. Newton argued that a full and true history of the Church would reveal what most had forgotten or never knew: that Christ was subservient to God the father. This belief was called anti- Trinitarianism because it denied the Holy Trinity of father, son, and holy ghost-- a denial that was heretical to mainstream Anglicans of the day."
This was explosive. Why? "What would it mean if the father of Enlightenment reason were to be revealed as an obsessive heretic whose denunciations of modern Protestantism. . . Newton had been a Christian, and he had certainly been a "Genius," but neither Conduitt nor any of the others involved in sorting his papers had any appetite for revealing the full extent of his highly idiosyncratic form of Christianity. These were the kinds of beliefs that landed heretics in prison or, in exceptional cases, saw them executed. Though the last people to be sentenced to death for anti- Trinitarian heresy in England were burned at the stake in 1612, in Scotland Thomas Aikenhead was hanged in 1697 for expressing heretical views on the incarnation of Christ." These findings about Newton were not published.
Many players are indentified and drawn in brief but vivid colors. Two primary ones are John Maynard Keynes and Abraham Yahuda. Keynes is well known. Yahuda was a brilliant scholar and Sephardic Jew. He took a keen interest in Newton's bibical papers, Keynes in his scientific ones.
Yahuda concluded "it was already very clear to him that the papers revealed that Newton was "more a monotheist than a Trinitarian." In some parts of the manuscripts, Newton himself had concluded that "Jehovah is the unique God." (Page 162)
"In Newton, who himself sought to return a blemished Christianity to its purer origins, Yahuda found a kindred soul. Interpreting ancient texts didn't require robbing them of a fixed meaning. Both Newton and Yahuda sought instead to find a singular truth amid the variations. Even in the abstruse realm of textual criticism, much was at stake.''
''As war raged in Europe, Yahuda made a case in a speech in New York for why it was so important to prove the accuracy of the Bible. Doing so was more than a "scientific concern"; it was a moral duty, so that the precious treasure that was the Bible was preserved from the "destructive theories of Higher Criticism" that may have contributed to the "spreading of those disruptive ideas which, to a large extent, paved the way in Germany to that `Kultur' of racialism, paganism and self- deification as in the darkest ages of human history." (Page 170)
Fascinating insight into the result from the loss of Biblical wisdom.
Yahuda and Einstein talked and corresponded about Newton's papers that Yahuda had aquired. Einstein wrote: "to me especially interesting because they provide deep insight into the characteristic intellectual features and working methods of this important man. The divine origin of the Bible is for Newton absolutely certain, a conviction that stands in curious contrast to the critical skepticism that characterizes his attitude toward the churches. From this confidence stems the firm conviction that the seemingly obscure parts of the Bible must contain important revelations, to illuminate which one need only decipher its symbolic language. Newton seeks this decipherment, or interpretation, by means of his sharp systematic thinking grounded on the careful use of all the sources at his disposal." (Page 172)
Dry comments: "Einstein implicitly links the process by which Newton developed his physics and his theology; by studying the one, we might gain an insight into the other. He describes Newton's search for the secret truths of the Bible as deriving not from magical reasoning, as Keynes had determined, but from "sharp systematic thinking." Newton's so- called mental workshop ( geistige Werkstatt ) is metaphorically the same place where both his physics and his theology were created."
Newton is revealed as a Christian determined to follow his search for truth no mater where it goes.
Dry's writing is clear. Includes photos or drawings of many of the people mentioned, which adds substance. Covers a lot of ground and history. Anyone interested in enlightenment scholorship or anti-trinitarian scholarship will enjoy.
This is a meta-story. Don't expect to learn much about differential calculus, refraction, laws of motion, alchemy, biblical chronology, or the British mint, although Newton was prolific in all these areas. Rather the author sets a stage, with a solitary Newton, surrounded by papers and equipment, intently writing and rewriting as his understanding develops. Newton's contemporaries then cross the sage, some greeted cordially by the great man, others cantankerously vilified.
Then, in 1727, Newton exits stage right. His heirs look hurriedly at the papers, and, aghast, cover them with black cloth to avoid charges of blasphemy or sullying the reputation of a great natural philosopher. The lights dim, and centuries pass.
Then in 1936 the lights come up, the covers are yanked off, and Newtown's papers dispersed at auction to a large number of individual buyers. A few heroic scholars laboriously buy and assemble papers by subject matter, and give them to a number of academic institutions, where numerous researchers analyze them. The author tells stories of this work carefully, and in great detail, although it seems to be a diversion from the main story line.
At this point the book jumps to a meta-meta-level. Newton's image evolves from the historic great scientist, through multiple Newtons and split personalities, to emerge with a crescendo into the bright light of a seeker of ultimate truth across all his intellectual pursuits. An exciting end to a fascinating story. (I was surprised that the book proper ended at Location 3751, 69% of the volume, the rest is notes and index.)
The notes are extensive, and a bit problematic in Kindle format. They are informative, but looking at them disrupts the flow of reading. I wonder if using two Kindles would help - one for reading the story and the other used in parallel but progressing through the notes.
I highly recommend this book, both for its depth on Newtoniana and as a commentary on the emergence of the history of science.