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4.4 out of 5 stars
40
4.4 out of 5 stars
Newton and the Counterfeiter
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on 10 May 2016
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. Even if the story of Chaloner's efforts to swindle the nation, and to produce counterfeit currency on an enormous scale never quite reaches the dizzy heights of Holmes versus Moriarty, the game was clearly afoot and a ripping yarn awaits. Except that that this ripping yarn is true. Newton certainly needed all his resolve, single-mindedness, detective skills and a certain police-like control of a network of informers and 'thief-takers,' who assisted him to defeat all who stood against England's glorious and wealthy future. Chaloner never realised that Newton equated counterfeiting and debasing of the currency with profane crime, almost blasphemy, and a crime that threatened divine law itself. That Newton was on a mission from Parliament was obvious, but the author shows us a side of his character that embraced such a ruthlessness and unforgiving aspect of his nature that it can only properly be explained by accepting that Newton himself believed that he was also engaged in God's work. Newton was not a hater. Put simply, he was a driven man and this book reveals him as such.

The book is superbly researched, historically titillating and splendidly descriptive of the stink and squalor that made its disgusting home alongside the mercantile expansion, foppery and naive riches of London from the mid 17th Century on.

A worthy addition to all we thought we knew about arguably the greatest original thinking scientist of the modern age. An absolutely absorbing and brilliant read.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 17 April 2017
This book was fascinating. The pursuit of the counterfeiter gripping and the introduction of Newton and his works concise. The reason I didn't give 5 stars is due to a warning I give now. The text of the book is only 57% of the book, the remaining 43% being Notes, Appendices etc. If you need this extra detail then it provides enormous supporting detail. However if, like me, you read it as a story, start, middle, finish you may feel a little disappointed. Just be warned.
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on 22 June 2017
Why oh why have the editors not bothered to make a British English version of this book? It's not too difficult, after all they convert from GB to US all the time.
I'm sure that they have access to an automatic spell checker/converter. Poor effort Faber & Faber
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on 5 August 2017
Great book and shows we really don't know the great man.
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 30 November 2009
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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on 23 January 2010
Highlighting a lesser known episode from Isaac Newton's life this book was bound to be special anyway. Just reading about Newton's overhaul of the British financial is interesting enough. He himself probably thought of catching counterfeiters in the process as an annoying distraction, but this too required some very clever thinking.

Thomas Levenson, who has clearly done some thorough research on London society and politics at the end of the 17th century, chooses to revolve his story around one particular confrontation, Newton versus William Chaloner, a counterfeiter so cunning and daring he even accused Newton of incompetence. Which was not a very smart thing to do, given het effect it had on Newton's determination to bring him to the gallows.

Mr. Levenson deserves credit not only for his meticulous research, but also for the way he presents it. Mixing a matter-of-fact style with literary techniques, he succeeds in sketching a lively picture of both men and their respective businesses. Almost a novel.
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on 29 May 2011
This story has two main characters, one (the counterfeiter) more likeable than the other (Newton). The counterfeiter was a lad from the sticks on the make in London. He began counterfeiting in a small way (clipping silver coins), tried for the jackpot years later and in the end lost his head. Newton was a mathematical genius and a bore (at least in mathematics). As is well known he was something of a cheat and a bit of a snide. Newton studied at Cambridge University, became resident there and wrote during his residency his famous work on mathematics. Did he invent calculus? Well, that's another story. The counterfeiter lived off his wits and studied at that great university of life, the streets of London. In those days (the late-1600s), silver was more valuable than gold and large quantities of English silver coins were being sold in Continental Europe for more than could be bought with them in England. If you clipped silver coins, you could "harvest" enough to make another (albeit underweight) coin and pass it off as the real thing along with the other lightweights. The counterfeiter graduated from clipping silver coins to minting complete duds, so good that they passed for legitimate coinage in and around London. English coinage was in meltdown. Its debasement was almost complete when Newton arrived on the scene. He left Cambridge to head up the Royal Mint and set about in a disciplined way reorganising the Mint and building cases against counterfeiters, including our likely lad. Rather cheekily, the lad had offered at one point to reorganise operations at the Mint and stamp out the corruption there. Had he got his feet under that table, he would have been ideally placed to continue his counterfeiting from the inside. His offer was rejected by the government minister responsible for the Mint. Newton caught some of the smaller fry involved in counterfeiting but suffered several setbacks in his efforts to trap our likely lad. Eventually, Newton succeeded in closing the net on him. The book is not exactly a ripping yarn - with Newton as one of the main characters it could never be - but it is a great read.
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 27 May 2016
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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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 January 2010
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse