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Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist Paperback – 12 Apr 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1 edition (12 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547336047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547336046
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,393,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description



"A complex, comprehensive and absorbing narrative, told with energy, skill and care."--"San Francisco Chronicle"

"Levenson has a sharp eye for the dramatic events and personal details that bring history to life . . . an in depth study . . . new and original."--"Nature "

"Levenson reveals the remarkable and true tale of the only criminal investigator who was far, far brainier than even Sherlock Holmes: Sir Isaac Newton during his tenure as Warden of the Royal Mint. What a fascinating saga! It allows us to see the human side of Newton and how his amazing mind worked when dealing with practical rather than theoretical questions.
Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein, His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Newton and the Counterfeiter is a wonderful read that reveals a whole new side to a giant of science. Through a page-turning narrative, we witness Isaac Newton's genius grappling with the darker sides of human nature, an all too human journey reflecting his deepest beliefs about the cosmic order. This is a gripping story that enriches our sense of the man who forever changed our view of the universe.
Brian Greene, author of The Fabric of the Cosmos

As the great Newton recedes from us in time, he comes increasingly into focus as a man rather than a myth thanks in no small measure to this learned and lively new study from the estimable Thomas Levinson.
--Timothy Ferris, author of Seeing in the Dark

Newton and the Counterfeiter is both a fascinating read and a meticulously researched historical document: a combination difficult to achieve and rarely seen . . . Recommended for anyone who wants to know the real story behind this astonishing but largely overlooked chapter of scientific history.
--Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon and Anathem

"I absolutely loved Newton and the Counterfeiter. Deft, witty and exhaustively researched, Levenson's tale illuminates a near-forgotten chapter of Newton's extraordinary life--the cat-and-mouse game that pitted him against a criminal mastermind--and manages not only to add to our knowledge of the great mathematician but to make a page turner out of it. This book rocks."
--Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Newton and the Counterfeiter is a delicious read, featuring brilliant detective work and a captivating story . . . a virtuoso performance.
--Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

"I loved Levenson's book. It's a rollicking account of the fascinating underbelly of seventeenth-century London--and reveals an aspect of Newton I'd scarcely known of before, yet which shaped the world we know. A tour de force."
--David Bodanis, author of E=MC2

"Levenson's account of this world of criminality, collusion and denunciation is meticulously researched and highly readable...the tale of Newton the economist is one worth telling." -- New Scientist

"Levenson demonstrates a surpassing felicity in his brisk treatment of this late-17th-century true-crime adventure...Swift, agile treatment of a little known but highly entertaining episode in a legendary life."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"Highly Reccommended." -- Library Journal

"Newton and the Counterfeiter packs a wonderful punch in its thoroughly surprising revelation of that other Isaac Newton, and in its vivid re-creation of 17th-century London and its fascinating criminal
haunts." -- Providence Journal
"Newton and the Counterfeiter is as finely struck as one of Newton's shillings." -- The Oregonian

"Levenson transforms inflation and metallurgy into a suspenseful detective story bolstered by an eloquent summary of Newtonian physics and stomach-turning descriptions of prison life in the Tower of London...Newton and the Counterfeiter humanizes a legend, transforming him into a Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of his own private Moriarity." -- Washington Post"

Book Description

Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson is the gripping historical thriller of rivalry, obsession and revenge at the Royal Mint.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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By Sid Nuncius #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 30 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable book. It is very well-written by an intelligent, deeply knowledgeable author who knows how to tell a good story, and it brings the historical events and characters fascinatingly to life.

The first section of the book (nearly half of it) is a terrific potted biography of Isaac Newton, with a really good, comprehensible account of his character, intellectual development and achievements. I am a physicist by training, I have also studied History of Science and have read a great deal about Newton, some of which has been very good and some very bad. This is one of the best short accounts I have ever read - incisive and compellingly readable, it gives a really good insight into the man, the way he worked and what motivated him. On the second page, by the way, Levinson writes, "psychoanalysis at a distance of centuries is a fool's game." I was pretty sure I was in safe hands after reading that, and I was right.

All this is essential for understanding Newton's time at the Mint and his approach to the pursuit of counterfeiters. This story is also brilliantly told, with a fascinating, wonderfully accessible account of the economic problems of the time, how the coinage contributed to them and the birth of money as we know it (or think we know it) today. This is wrapped up in an enthralling narrative of, effectively, a detective pursuing a criminal and the cat-and-mouse tactics each employed.

I often find that biography or history struggles to hold my interest and attention for hundreds of pages. This did - it was scholarly, fascinating and thoroughly engaging. I found it had the effect of a really good novel, leaving me very keen to get back and read some more, and I recommend it in the strongest terms.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sir Isaac Newton summons immediate thoughts of and a belief in the greatest scientific thinker of 17th Century England. A loner and reclusive man who applied himself to mastering a full understanding of calculus, mathematical interpretation and, in mechanical completeness, those physical laws such as motion, energy, light, optics, etc. which could definitively explain his and our understanding of, essentially, God as Creator of His 'system of the world.' In recent years his less well known but long-term embracing of alchemy, divinity and biblical prophecy, have all been revealed. Two books which cover these essential aspects of Newton's life are the succinctly explanatory 'Newton's Gift' by David Berlinski and the first-rate 'Isaac Newton The Last Sorcerer' by Michael White.

Adding further now to Newton's colossal cerebral achievements, Thomas Levenson, a most wonderful raconteur and storyteller, has written the fluid yet truthful account 'Newton and the Counterfeiter.' It reads as well as all good novels should, yet remains true to the facts - no easy feat - so that we can now be made aware that in The Royal Mint's direst hour - when England's currency had become bastardised, debased and brought so low in worth that the country teetered on the edge of monetary ruin, it was the self same Newton who, as Warden of the Mint, oversaw and implemented a complete overhaul of the production of the coin of the realm, arguably saving England from national fiscal insolvency.

Yet the book does not confine itself to Newton's planning, management and production skills for his country's newly-revitalised currency. Enter William Chaloner, master counterfeiter, and often times a most worthy and cunning opponent for the greatest analytical mind of the age.
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