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on 6 February 2013
Loved this book, well written, easy to follow, and made the life of Newton very enjoyable to read about.

Some books looking back on significant figures in history become a bit of a work to plough through, but this was compelling. I really enjoyed reading it, and got a lot out of it. If you want an overview of th elife of Newton in paperback then i recommend this book.
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2003
Isaac Newton. Indisputably one of the most gifted scientist of all time. The man invented calculus, brought experimental sceince to the masses, modelled the dynamic of nature with pen and paper. Now Glieck has brought out a book trying to introduce him to the non-scientific public, and he has a good stab at it. Unfortunately for Gleick is quite hard to get across just how much Newton did for the world in general and science in particular, especially when you're trying not to get technical (there are no equations in this. it's a "biography", not a histroy ofmathematics).
Whilst the book certianly gives a good description of Newton's middle life (from starting at Cambridge to his move to London around the age of 50) the author seems to get so caught up in the ideology that Newton was God's gift to science, nature and the world in general that everything he says has to have a melodramatic and romantic twist. As a result you read the book feeling like you're floating from one anecdote to the next without being told any details or really being captured bythe story.
Newton was undoubtedlly one of the very few people in history who can make a claim to be part of the top intellectual echelons, but it's a shame this claim is done justice by the quality of this biography. It says nothing less than that about the man himself - Gleick quite obviously holds Newton with great reverance - but the stories and tales are told in such a round about way sometimes that you quite often nmiss the point.
Still, it does a good job of noting the impact he had on science, gives you an insight into his personality (one that common of geniuses in eras gone by) and does so without you needing to understand the maths. If that sounds like what you want, buy it.
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on 23 August 2011
This book is an absolute pleasure. Highly readable, packed with fact but written in a style that transports the reader to the 17th century. I feel I have had an encounter with this withdrawn and troubled genius! Additionally I was and am amazed at how advanced was Newton's world view.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2013
To be fair, it is exactly what it is meant to be. However I found it to be dry and uninteresting, and it took quite a lot of effort to continue reading.

Not sure if it's the writer or Newton that is to blame for this though.

Nevertheless it is something that should be read by anybody with an interest in science.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Following his excellent biography of the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman, James Gleick turns his attention to one whose abilities and influences were even greater - in fact, someone who was possibly the greatest scientist who ever lived. In the words of Hermann Bondi, "The tools that he gave us stand at the root of so much that goes on now... we may not be doing a lot more than following in his footsteps" [p193]. Before taking up this book, I thought I knew a little about Newton's life and works: born on Christmas Day, only son of a Lincolnshire farmer, a mostly self-taught mathematician, discoverer of the law of universal gravitation, embroiled in a dispute with Leibniz over precedence in the development of the calculus, researcher into the nature of light and colour, inventor of the reflecting telescope, alchemist, theologian and master of the Royal Mint.

All of this gets covered here, but what I hadn't appreciated was how much of his work (particularly in his early years) was devoted to many subjects - pure mathematics, calculus, optics, physics - at the same time, and how much of it he kept hidden from other workers in these fields. It can be hard for a modern scientist (particularly those following in his footsteps) to understand his secrecy, but such was the nature of the times he lived in, and Newton's role as the harbinger of the scientific age. This unique position also identifies him as - in the words of Keynes - "the last of the magicians" [p194], and it's difficult to avoid impressions of the arcane, the mysterious, even the other-worldly in the story of his life.

Gleick's elegant style is put to good use here (for example, "Then equations have not just solutions but other properties: maxima and mimima, tangents and areas. These were visualized, and they were named." [p38]), although his copious use of footnotes - which take up a fifth of this book - made me feel I was reading two interlocking books as I flipped back and forth between them. To be sure, careful reference to the scant documentation of Newton's life is important (if only for the unpicking of myths about his famous quote about standing on the shoulders of giants, the story of his dog which caused a fire that destroyed some of his manuscripts and - of course - the tale of the apple which inspired his discovery of gravity), but sometimes I felt important points - such as the suggestion that mercury poisoning could have caused his eccentricities in later life (which only appears in a note on p236) - fell into the gap between these texts. But that's perhaps to be too critical of a fine book: well-written, interesting and stimulating.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
From one of the best writers on science, a remarkable portrait of Isaac Newton. The man who changed our understanding of the universe, of science and of faith. Isaac Newton was the chief architect of the modern world. He answered the ancient philosophical riddles of light and motion; he effectively discovered gravity; he salvaged the terms 'time', 'space', 'motion' and 'place' from the haze of everyday language, standardized them and married them, each to the other, constructing an edifice that made knowledge a thing of substance: quantative and exact. Creation, Newton demonstrated, unfolds from simple rules, patterns iterated over unlimited distances. What Newton learned remains the essence of what we know. Newton's laws are our laws. When we speak of momentum, of forces and masses, we are seeing the world as Newtonians.

When we seek mathematical laws for economic cycles and human behaviour, we stand on Newton's shoulders. Our very deeming the universe as solvable is his legacy. This was the achievement of a reclusive professor, recondite theologian and fervent alchemist. A man, who feared the light of exposure, shrank from controversy and seldom published his work....a great read!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2012
Having read Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman I was confident that this book would be a good read, and it was. The book is well researched and paints a wonderfully interesting picture of Newton. It should be read by everyone so they can understand the mindset of one of the world's great scientists.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2013
A very readable but scholarly account of the life and achievements of Sir Isaac Newton. Writing a biography of one who was a misanthrope and near recluse for much of his life must be very hard to do, and I am grateful for the author having done so.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2014
This was a n interesting read. If I was to fault the book it would be the format and possibly the flow of information, which seemed a little static at times. I guess Sir Isaac was a difficult subject to explore and write about.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2011
Enjoyed this book ,loads of detail and you do feel you know Newton reasonably well after reading this.At times I thought it assumed the reader had a basic scientific knowledge,which I don't have.Didn't spoil the book though.
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