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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Newton - a pioneer of western science, 11 April 2010
This review is from: Isaac Newton (Paperback)
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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Initial post: 27 Dec 2013, 09:23:25 GMT
You are absolutely correct. Please forgive my typographical error! Newton was indeed born in 1642.
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