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Newton and the Counterfeiter, Thomas Levenson. A fascinating look at a neglected period of Newton's life
on 26 September 2009
When someone mentions Sir Isaac Newton, you immediately think of the father of science, the three laws of motion, apples and gravity, modern mathematics, the principle of optics, chemistry, theology etc, etc, etc. But what did he do after he had revolutionised modern thinking? It turns out he became the Warden of the Mint, responsible for guaranteeing the value of the currency, and for catching counterfeiters.
This part of his life is often neglected, when discussing Newton people tend to concentrate on his intellectual achievements, and his famous arguments with Hooke and Leibnitz. But the job of Warden of the Mint required no less intellect than his scientific studies, with the systems he set up to prevent counterfeiting, and his painstaking investigations that would send counterfeiters to the gallows.
This book details his entanglements with William Chaloner, the greatest counterfeiter of his day, a man of great powers who managed to evade capture for years, along the way even managed to cast doubt on Newton's powers and probity, and even tried to get himself inserted into the Mint!
This book reads a bit like a good thriller. There is a brief description of Newton's early life, leading up to his reasons for taking the job at the Mint. A description of the known facts of Chaloner's early life is given, then there follows the details of the battle between the two, as Newton struggled to bring his quarry to justice. Along the way we also learn much about the foundations of modern finance and banks, which were methods to solve economic problems that bear a strange resemblance to those faced in the current economic crisis! It's gripping stuff, and even better, it's all true. The book has been excellently researched, the author has drawn from a wide range of reliable documentary evidence to build his tale. It's not a dry biography however, it's written in a very accessible style.
I would highly recommend this book, it will appeal to all fans of good crime thrillers, or anyone interested in Newton and would like to know a bit more about the man himself. 5 Stars with no hesitation.