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Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge Paperback Library) [Paperback]

Richard S. Westfall
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 April 1983 Cambridge Paperback Library
This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (29 April 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521274354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521274357
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 381,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'This monumental scientific biography provides a masterly, well-documented summary of contemporary views of all the many facets of Newton's astoundingly wide-ranging career.' Nature

'The first detailed biography of Newton written by a professional historian of science who, over the years, has mastered the prodigious literature, weighed it judiciously, and still manages to reveal new insights by delving into the mass of Newton's unpublished writings. Westfall has produced a work of major significance.' Science

'A monumental biography, and a delight to read.' The New Yorker

'Richard Westfall has done Newton proud.' The Economist

Book Description

This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
NEWTON'S name in the matriculation book of Cambridge University on 8 July 1661, together with those of sixteen other students recently admitted to Trinity College, bears witness to an event so obviously significant in his life (as it must have been for the other sixteen, and as similar events have been for countless young men through eight centuries of Western history) that one flirts with banality even to mention it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enigma in itself! 15 Jan 2003
The perfect birthday shopping gift! When you want something really worthwhile to read and expand your mind at the same time, take this book. It's a biopgraphy with a quality you see rarely: comprehensive, thorough, very clearly written, on high-quality paper, and all this of one of the great enigmas of science (but in my humble opinion: he is THE greatest). I was hooked right from page one. The size of the book mirrors his awesome achievements: it's a vast tome, almost a 1000 pages. Not one of these was boring. Each page harbored yet new vistas. When I had finished the book, I was left with the small pain of having said goodbye to an old (!) friend. For not only his achievements were discussed, the all too human man behind it all was also portrayed, giving an intimate view of not only the scientist, but also of the sometimes jealous, eager, callous, friendly, etc, man who was Isaac Newton as a person.
All in all it kept me wondering: how on Earth was one man alone able to grow to such great heights, and especially during such a backward age (mid-1600s). Well, perhaps these two well-known citations from Newton himself are true after all: 'I was standing on the shoulders of giants' (he must have been truly modest then) and, also explaining the book's title, '[..] he that is able to reason nimbly and judiciously [..] is never at rest [..] [in his mind]'.
The book gave me some small challenges also. What I missed a bit was an Old English pronounciation list. There was many a citation from Newton's original work or letters, which I really liked. For me though, not quite used to reading in Old English, it took me quite some time to understand the olden English words judiciously used there, e.g. ye=the, wch=which, wt=with, etc (about 20 words in total).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative but heavy going 21 Jan 2013
This is a long and detailed book carefully written. It securely places Newton's work in the context of knowledge of its time which provides a fascinating insight into how he was rigorous and innovative in his scholarship and unremitting when crossing intellectual swords with hes contemporaries. The level of scholarship is high.

His ideas are carefully explained and there are extensive quotes to demonstrate the points made. These could be made more accessible to the modern reader by presenting them in a modern context or even using modern notation when discussing things. Some of his ideas are hard to understand or access as they are not positioned into current scientific or mathematical forms. Whilst doing this potentially detracts from understanding his work in its original setting, it would extend the brilliance of his insight and also assist in showing how much of the foundations of classical mathematical physics can be traced to Newton.

This is a good book, but you will need time to read it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent example of biographers art- Comprehensive & clear 10 Jan 1998
By A Customer - Published on
A comprehensive yet clearly written biography spanning every facet of the life of one of the worlds true geniuses. Compelling from beginning to end this book combines extensive research with a passion to provide an insight into both the work and personal life of Newton. Whilst other work may need to be consulted by the most mathematically minded, readers with a yearning for an insight into Newton's discoveries will generally be pleased at the detail provided. My only critism would be that this very large tome came to an end. Purchasers should be aware that at over 900 pages the paperback version of this book will require careful treatment if it is to survive.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 17 Mar 2006
By R. Albin - Published on
A first rate biography should include a good description of the important achievements of the subject, give a good sense of the subject's personality, provide the appropriate historic context in which to view the subject, be well written, and have good documentation. Westfall's biography of Newton is first-rate in all these dimensions. Newton is arguably the most important person in modern history. His work inaugurates both modern mathematics and modern physics. His achievements as a physicist set the pattern not only for physics but also for the other natural sciences. Newton's impact in larger culture extended also beyond the world of sciences. The historian of religion George Marsden wrote that Newton was the most important individual in the founding of the 18th century Enlightenment. Though Newton cannot be considered a member of that movement, his example of demonstrating universal natural laws understandable by human reason was immensely influential in European intellectual culture.

Westfall provides a detailed chronological account of Newton's life that covers all his major (and minor) achievements and is simply excellent at integrating the relevant historical background information. As Westfall writes, we regard Newton as a scientist and the emphasis in on Newton's career as a working scientist and mathematician. But, this is described very clearly within the context of late 17th century Europe. Westfall, for example, devotes ample pages to Newton's study of alchemy and theology. Since Newton spent a large fraction of his life working in these areas, it would be imposing an anachronistic perspective to minimize attention to these topics. Westfall is excellent at describing both the intellectual and social milieu in which Newton functioned. The sections detailing the history of mathematics and physics of Newton's important predecessors and contemporaries are first-rate, particularly his analysis of the impact of Descartes analytical geometry and mechanistic philosophy. His descriptions of 17th century Cambridge, with its concentration of pseudo-academic placemen, and of the generally patronage driven world of Caroline Britain are excellent. Never at Rest provides a vivid impression of the nature of scientific work in Newton's time. Westfall does not shirk from presenting complex mathematical and physical topics. These sections are tough going for those who don't recall a lot of math and physics but very worthwhile because they give an excellent sense of Newton's transforming effects on these disciplines.

Westfall delineates Newton's difficult personality very well and is fair in dealing with the numerous conflicts in which Newton became enmeshed, particularly the famous priority dispute with Leibnitz. Some of Newton's behavior is shown also to have stemmed from unexpected sources. Newton's theological researches led him to the conclusion that much accepted Christian theology is wrong and he had to conceal his Arianism and anti-Trinitarianism for much of his life. Some of Newton's achievements are shown as stemming from unexpected sources also. Westfall shows that Newton's alchemical researches, with their rather mystical element, probably contributed to freeing him from dogmatic mechanistic philosophy and facilitated his development of the idea of a universal, intrinsic gravitational force.

Newton is a fascinating figure and this biography will remain the standard for the foreseeable future.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pebbles on a shore 19 Oct 2002
By John C. Landon - Published on
There are a fair number of Newton biographies, this one is the most comprehensive and thorough, with a full treatment of the development of Newton's scientific and mathematical thought. What is remarkable is how rapidly Newton mastered the essentials of the techniques of his contemporaries, quietly reaching the forefront of knowledge, this in a few years, and without much prior training before his arrival in the world of Cambridge, where he flowered at once despite the almost defunct educational status of this university. The myth, however, of the annus mirabilis needs replacement with the reality of the anni mirabili, next to the near abandonment of mathematics for some years as Newton's concerns passed to encompass something broader than pure physics and his deskdrawer 'calculus' still embedded in geometrical formalisms. The final composition of the Principia in the wake of the coaxing forth of De Motu is grounds for thunderous applause for Halley who had the presence of mind to grasp who he was dealing with and the politic manner needed to communicate/negotiate with the reclusive prime mover of theory. His great work complete Newton is off to rescue the coinage at the Royal Mint,thence to the forgettable episodes of the priority quarrel with Leibniz. This work is slow but superb on all aspects of Newton's life.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unquestionably a masterpiece! 5 Mar 2001
By ericross - Published on
This is in the same class as Ray Monk's Wittgenstein biography or Martin Gilbert's Churchill.
I couldn't put it down until I was at the back page, many dozens of hours after I began!
It left me exhausted but enriched!
This sets a standard by which the modern science biography should be judged.
Westfall says something to the effect that the more you know about a person, the closer you get to them, but in Newton's case, the more we learn, the more mysterious he becomes.
You won't be disappointed.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book about a great life 23 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on
This is a remarkable biography because it so thoroughly tells the story of Sir Isaac Newton in all its various aspects. Newton's determination to know, his science (breathtaking science, his awesome brilliance), the religious and alchemical investigations, the cranky aloofness, are all carefully and fully drawn; by the end of the book, you feel, along with the author, that you have got to know the subject (at least to the extent one might get to know the great man).
This is a great biography, because it is so detailed, so in depth and so successful at bringing Newton in view. It is also likely that it will for many years surpass any other biography of Newton because of its thoroughness.
I think it is worth reading not only because the reader learns so much about the science and life of one of history's great thinkers, and to some extent how he thought, but also because the reader gains an appreciation of the hard work of invention even for one so gifted as Newton, and some insight into the hard work of turning observations into theoretical constructs.
A magnificent biography.
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