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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 May 2011
This is a short bio of Newton that is emminently readable and explains his achievements in historical perspective. It does not go into excessive scientific detail, but explains the gist in a truly masterful popularization. I am sure that scientists will find the treatment too light, but for the general reader it is perfect in my view.

Newton essentially created a new kind of mathematics, which came to be known as calculus. It involved the use of infinities to describe certain shapes and so was a great break with previous mathematical assumptions. In what can only be called a work of genius, Newton then applied this mathematics to the motion of the planets, positing the force of gravity as the explanation for why it all held together. Newton also did fundamental experiments in optics, which reflected his remarkable ability to observe and record/descirbe what he saw in scientific language. Gleick also explores Newton's involvement in strange strains of mysticism, a remnant of the middle ages and unlike the Enlightenment with which he came to be associated.

On a personal level, Newton was a solitary man with no apparent romantic relationships. Gleick does not speculate on is sexuality and avoids other areas about which we cannot know. Late in life, he became rich as a controller of the currency for the Crown.

Warmly recommended. Gleick is a science writer of great talent.
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on 3 May 2016
If you are looking for a highly poetic, dramatized, self-indulgent biography of Newton, this is the one. If you do not want to read a book which shouts from every page 'look at me and how clever I am at writing about things using 10 words when 5 is ample' then steer clear.

A very disappointing and very hard-going read for anyone who simply wants to learn and understand about Isaac Newton the man and his work.
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on 7 March 2008
James Gleick writes well and tells the story of Newton's life in a readable fashion, but this book didn't really add anything to what I already knew about the great man. It would be a good introduction if you don't already know about Newton's life and work, but not worth bothering if you do know something of the subject.

And I agree that the notes should have been included in the text!

Charlie T.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 April 2010
Isaac Newton by James Gleick, HarperCollins 2003, 304 ff.

This is a highly readable biographical narrative about the most important `natural philosopher' of the day. The author is a journalist, so has no predilection to get into any high powered science or mathematics - the science is accessible, the mathematics non-existent. As the story opens - for all the factual content, it reads like a novel - Gleick sets the scene in late medieval England when Newton was born (on Christmas Day in 1642), just at the start of the English Civil War and a century before the start of the Industrial Revolution that was made possible by the discoveries of Newton and his contemporaries.

Gleick does very well to summarize the enormous number of achievements of this great man in a relatively short book - there are 70 pages of Notes and References at the end, as well as a comprehensive Index, so we have less than 200 pages of text. There are many quotations in the book from Newton's original papers. We learn of Newton's mathematical creations of binomial and infinite series in algebra, of his study of refraction of light, that Newton believed travelled mainly as `corpuscles' or particles, and of the study and mathematical representation of laws of motion and gravity for which he is probably best known. Newton invented the calculus, more or less simultaneously with the German philosopher and diplomat, Leibniz, and there were the almost inevitable squabbles over precedence.

But Gleik also tells us about Newton as a man: he gives us some idea of the issues over which he quarrelled with Robert Hooke, who was probably just as fine an experimental scientist but one who lacked the mathematical knowledge or rigour to follow through on his discoveries. Newton's approach to science, with experiment underpinned with mathematical theory, was revolutionary and is a major cornerstone of the pursuit of science to this day. We learn that Newton was for the early part of his life a very insecure, mistrustful and secretive man, until he was accorded the status in society that he deserved. Newton, like his friend, philosopher John Locke, was an anti-Trinitarian and had to have special dispensation to be allowed to teach at Cambridge. But, like many scientists of his time, his scientific work had the over-arching aim of understanding God's handiwork in the natural world. He was a key figure in the newly created Royal Society of London and we meet other natural philosophers involved in its establishment and rose to become Master of the Royal Mint.

This is an enjoyable and informative book which should pose no problems at all to non-scientists. It sets Newton in context with his contemporaries and well summarizes his achievements. A more detailed accouint would have gained the extra star in the rating.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Man Who Knew Too Much: The strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635 - 1703
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on 25 August 2016
James Gleick has taken a challenging task to write a concise and interesting biography of one of the greatest thinkers of all time - Isaac Newton. The book begins with Isaac's childhood and while reading it I had many times of understanding better on what grouds Newton made his far-reaching discoveries. The book has at times direct citations of Newton's own handwriting, which can be challenging to read because they are written in old style English. A whole chapter in the book is devoted to Principia but Newton's second major book Opticks is mentioned only briefly within the text.
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on 19 September 2013
Well researched with complex concepts explained simply. The book made me feel like I was alongside Newton as he wrestled with some of the greatest questions of the time, like quantifying the laws of motion, planetary movement and gravity attraction. Describes a lonely man, inpatient and untrusting but not egotistic, a very enquiring mind desperate for solutions necessitating the invention of new mathematical methods like calculus from first principles. Perhaps one of the greatest applied mathematicians of all time.
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on 22 August 2016
I thought this was a bit different from our usual treatment of Newton, enjoyable to read and not too long. It takes us a bit closer to Newton the person in a relatively short text. It's a really worthwhile contribution for those interested in Newton. I found it gave plenty to meditate on, suggesting that further study and thinking on Newton is likely to continue to unfold. It reminded me to try to read more of Newton's non-scientific writings.
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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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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 5 August 2007
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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