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Newton's Principia for the Common Reader Paperback – 12 Jun 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 620 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; New Ed edition (12 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019852675X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198526759
  • Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 4.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,862,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


...a continuing source of pleasure, and a permanent reminder of its author, whom it was a privilege to know. (L. Mestel, Observatory)

...a very individual account, in which Chandrasekhar brings understanding, expertise, and sensitivity to bear on the problems of revealing Newton to the 'common reader'. The common reader must be prepared to work hard, however, though the rewards are great for the one who does so. (R. Penrose, Times Higher Education Supplement)

The great joy of Chandrasekhar's book is that it repays all the attention one gives it...The veil of Newtonian obscurity is lifted and one begins to grasp the extent of Newton's achievement. (D. Hughes, Nature)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not for the faint-hearted "general reader" (for whom it is said to be written). Even so a seamless exposition of Newton's mathematics in every area presented with clarity. Attractive diagrams too. You will need a very good command of mathematics to make the most of it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8db9899c) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d715b1c) out of 5 stars Before you buy this book, hold on a minute 17 Jan. 2005
By Raghuram Krishnaswamy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book was written by the Indian-American Nobel Laureate who has a physical stellar size limit to his name. Chandra (the author of this book, who also has an orbiting X-ray telescope named after him..some guys have all the luck), who was amongst the most meticulous of theorists and who worked with bigwigs like Eddington, Russell, Dirac, Bethe, Fermi and Von Neumann amongst the most luminous, wrote this massive (and his last) work of Newton's Principia. This is Chandra's take on Newton's work. Don't think its a light read - It isn't. Its an astronomer writing for the erudite layperson or people in his profession or at least related in some way (Physicists for example).

You cannot take it with you to starbucks (its big and heavy) sip cappucino and browse the work. You'll need to be at a table with a straight-back chair and concentrate intensely. If you know Chandra's work, then you will know that Chandra always said just about what was required and said it in great English (possibly influenced by Eddington's writing) and his work is un-apologetically mathematical. So essentially this is a 20th century giant interpreting THE work of THE giant of all time. It is NOT a verbatim reproduction in English of the original latin publication of the Principia. Nor is not written along the lines of Cohen for instance. This is pretty much Chandra rewriting Principia in Chandra style with Chandra lodging himself into Newton's mind and its workings. Its quite a feat in that sense. Apparently he worked on a diagram for a problem and while researching Newton's papers found that Newton had written out the exact same diagram! Now is that spooky or an out of body experience for a great astronomer? About the book, it is expensive for a reason. Its beautifully designed, big and very beautifully bound in red jacket with Newton's bust and his handwriting on the jacket. If you bought it, the red cover alone is attractive enough to make it stand out of your living room book shelf. Most importantly, Chandra tackles each aspect of Newton's Principia in a his own manner. GET IT if you can afford it and if you can't, try a used book place. But get it anyway.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fefa738) out of 5 stars i'm ordering this book having looked through it 7 Oct. 2007
By nutty - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
perhaps the title "...for the common reader" is the issue here. "the common reader familiar with calculus", perhaps...

there's simply no way anyone without a very solid grounding in mathematics can read this book and understand it. we are talking about the laws of motion & gravity here, etc.

i compared this (a bit dogeared) copy of a book sided by side with a modern copy of principa in a bookshop, and for anyone wishing to tackle this monumentally important work, i cannot think of a better pairing. a modern copy of newton's principia and chandrasekhar's great work for those who wish to see a thorough explanation and working of the equations.

it's like a lot of things; be realistic with your expectations.
someone who is not very competent in mathematics is not going to be able to ever fully comprehend the contents of this book, misleading title notwithstanding.

perhaps the person that gave this book one star would like to let us know what scientific books he has awarded five stars to if he thinks so lowly of this one?

i say all this, because i'm currently self-studying algebra to be able to self-study calculus next year, just so i can try and understand some of this all-important book.

so don't knock the book, just keep putting the time in & struggling (and it's a struggle, alright) with the mathematics that unlock its secrets.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d54ed98) out of 5 stars This is Chandra's Principia not Newton's 2 Oct. 2012
By Methaya Sirichit - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am working through this book. I am impressed with Chandra's insight into the Principia. But it's very difficult. Beware that Chandra's insight can only be as profound as your command of mathematics. (Knowing calculus is not enough, you need to know at least classical mechanics as well.)

Chandra wrote this book because the original Newton's Principia is not accessible to modern physicists (because they lack familiarity with axiomatic classical geometry). But Chandra's book is not accessible to everybody else. Thus, Chandra's term "common reader" probably refers to common (and modern) physicists.

In my independent investigation into Newton's mathematics, I noticed that Newton seemed to work on the "new analysis" method early in his career but then seemed to discard it around mid 1670s for geometrical demonstration. He never looked back. His mature research papers and treatises such as De motu, and the Principia itself were composed in the style of the ancient, i.e. synthetic geometry of the Greek. There has been many confused speculations about this. Some says that it was his peculiar way in confusing the reader, or trying to be obscure - as he was extremely averse to censure and criticism. Others however believe that he used Euclidean construction so that the work can be accessed by the public who did not possess profound knowledge in Mathematics.

However, modern historian now understood that it was because Newton came to believe that the synthetic mathematics of the ancient, i.e. ruler-and-compass geometry, was a superior method to that of the modern "men of recent time." Newton believed that the ancient had their own method of analysis which had been lost to history. Newton was also concerned about the certainty of mathematics as the language for describing nature that led to his quest to restore the ancient method (analysis in his time was not rigorous). In the end however it was never clear whether Newton did discover the lost method. But Newton's preference of synthetic geometry was probably the reason why his notations in calculus are not as successful as that of Leibniz. Newton never bothered to refine his analytical notations for the purpose of demonstration. He clearly believed that synthetic geometry was the way to go and he used it successfully in all of his investigative efforts. Through out his later career, Newton was concerned that he utilized algebraic notations heavily in his youth - which he strangely found to be lack of taste - and wanted to suppress those early works.

Having said that I believe to understand Newton's philosophy we should read him in his original (synthetic geometry) rather than replacing them with advanced notation of modern calculus and analysis - as Chandra did here - which only makes sense to graduate students in math, engineering or physics.

To understand the original Principia, I recommend that first you find yourself a copy of "Force and Geometry in Newton's Principia" by Francois De Gandt (translated by Curtis Wilson). This is the best book that I know which explains and orients readers of Newton to the language of his geometry. In Newton's time, some physicists such as himself and Christian Huygens investigated the nature of force and motion through geometrical method. De Gandt's book is excellent because it did not just explain the math (geometry) but also the concept of force as understood by Newton and his contemporaries. De Gandt's book is therefore essential if you want to understand Newton in his own terms - not just the Principia but his other later works (such as De Motu) as well.

Another excellent book is Isaac Newton on Mathematical Certainty and Method (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology) by Guicciardini. This explains Newton's approach to mathematics and his mathematical philosophy. If you are serious about understanding Newton's mind, you should check these two books out. Please note that some knowledge of Euclid (about first 4 books) and Apollonius's Conics and Archimedes's treatment on Spiral are needed too. So it is wise to have them as reference.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read the Principia a few years ago (the I. Bernhard Cohen translation from 1999), and like anyone else who has ever read it, found it very hard going in the places where it wasn't downright impossible. This isn't the fault of the translator, who did a great job, but of Newton, who was notoriously averse to criticism and made sure that his work was as hard as possible, in order "to avoid being baited by little Smatterers in Mathematicks."
Fortunately, the great astrophysicist Chandrasekhar has given us this Guide, and it truly is a revelation. As he mentions in the introduction, his goal isn't to cover every theorem in the Principia, but rather to help us understand the great theorems and mathematical techniques in Newton's work. Reading this book is a humbling and awesome experience. Here we have one great mind showing us how another great mind works, and conveying to the reader his unbounded admiration for Newton's intellect and scientific achievements. He does this by showing us how Newton's geometric reasoning unfolds while translating the math into modern calculus, which is one reason why this book is invaluable. This book reminds us that Newton wasn't just a smart guy who invented calculus and came up with gravitation and the laws of motion, but rather the greatest scientific mind in history and a man who grasped the laws of nature with an ease that was downright frightening.
I'm warning you, however, that you won't get anything for free. If you want to read this book, you should first of all read Euclid's elements, upon which Newton modeled his work, and then read the Principia itself. Then you should make sure that your math skills are up to snuff - you will be doing many equations in your head along the way, and Chandrasekhar isn't going to make it easy for you. But it's worth the effort in the end, when, after working through a particularly difficult theorem, you lean back, smile, and think, "How incredibly beautiful! I could never have done that!"
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9083ec84) out of 5 stars On Newton's Quiet Endorsement of Euclid's Brilliance: Chandra's Greatness! 13 Jan. 2010
By Jeffrey Neuzil - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This work, although beyond my competence in mathematics, is designed for "the common reader." With just--a desideratum I lack--calculus and geometry, Chandra demonstrates certain fundamental scholia of Newton's treatise. But he does more than this. He shows us what Descartes suspected--that the classical geometers and Newton, in a way, new the same things. Descartes was the first to voice his "suspicion" that the classical mathematicians knew the methods of modern, calculus-based numerical analysis, but did not reveal such (Descartes' foundational act, his creation of "analytical geometry," is the point of "closest contact" ( Leo Strauss in a different comparison: Xenophon and Machiavelli) between ancient mathematical science and modern. By casting "Principia" in classical geometry, Newton--in a tradition profoundly indebted to Descartes and, therefore, Spinoza, shows his assent to Descartes' premise. If Newton's "Principia" can be elaborated by Euclid's methods, then, perhaps, Euclid is not so Parmenidean after all. In other words, there is a kinematicism (Parmenides) and a dynamism (Heraclitus)--i.e., Einstein and quantum theory--within classical mathematical science.
I find this in Euclid's ambiguous definition of "point" within his "elements" and within his non-theorem, but postulate, the famous "fifth"--which scholars have labored in vein to derive from his other four axioms.
They have now discovered that it cannot be done, which is why it is a "postulate," rather than an "axiom."
Newton, to say nothing of Euclid, chose all words carefully: Chandra brings this to light for us. This should not cause us to shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, then, it has all been done before, why do anything in science?" It should, rather, challenge us to say, "How can I prove that?"
Maybe you cannot, and I know I cannot: So it has the effect of conserving for us the greatness of our tradition, while asking us to go beyond it by not allowing us the, "We stand on the shoulders of the shoulders of giants, so we see farther than they" platitude. Therefore, above all, the mystery of Newton's cosmology is revealed to us. We have found our way out of the Labyrinth of millenial confusion only to recover the greatness of Our Tradition: Our gratitude to Chandra is infinite! So, perhaps, is the cosmos in which it emerged. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
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