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As a schoolbook figure, Isaac Newton is most often pictured sitting under an apple tree, about to discover the secrets of gravity. In this short biography, James Gleick reveals the life of a man whose contributions to science and math included far more than the laws of motion for which he is generally famous. Gleick's always-accessible style is hampered somewhat by the need to describe Newton's esoteric thinking processes. After all, the man invented calculus. But readers who stick with the book will discover the amazing story of a scientist obsessively determined to find out how things worked. Working alone, thinking alone, and experimenting alone, Newton often resorted to strange methods, as when he risked his sight to find out how the eye processed images:
.... Newton, experimental philosopher, slid a bodkin into his eye socket between eyeball and bone. He pressed with the tip until he saw 'severall white darke & coloured circles'.... Almost as recklessly, he stared with one eye at the sun, reflected in a looking glass, for as long as he could bear.
From poor beginnings, Newton rose to prominence and wealth, and Gleick uses contemporary accounts and notebooks to track the genius's arc, much as Newton tracked the paths of comets. Without a single padded sentence or useless fact, Gleick portrays a complicated man whose inspirations required no falling apples. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Gleick's most renowned writing falls into one of two categories: vivid character studies or broad syntheses of scientific trends. Here, he fuses the two genres with a biography of the man who was emblematic of a new scientific paradigm, but this short study falls a bit short on both counts. The author aims to "ground this book as wholly as possible in its time; in the texts," and his narrative relies heavily on direct quotations from Newton's papers, extensively documented with more than 60 pages of notes. While his attention to historical detail is impressive, Gleick's narrative aims somewhere between academic and popular history, and his take on Newton feels a bit at arms-length, only matching the vibrancy of his Feynman biography at moments (particularly when describing Newton's disputes with such competitors as Robert Hooke or Leibniz). As might be expected, Gleick's descriptions of Newton's scientific breakthroughs are clear and engaging, and his book is strongest when discussing the shift to a mathematical view of the world that Newton championed. In the end, this is a perfectly serviceable overview of Newton's life and work, and will bring this chapter in the history of science to a broader audience, but it lacks the depth one hopes for from a writer of Gleick's abilities.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
At this time of the year, I select a few books about diverse subjects and re-read them with the hope that new insights will occur that I missed previously. Read morePublished on Jan. 5 2013 by Robert Morris
There were moments in this book, but overall I was left a bit disappointed by the author's lack of insight into the man himself. Read morePublished on May 17 2004 by Jackie Tortorella
I found this book hard to follow in places, but because James Gleick places you so close to Isaac Newton, I found it impossible to give up reading it. Read morePublished on April 20 2004 by Rivkah Rubinstein
Despite its title, this slim volume is no biography. While interestng and well-written, it is really an extended profile, with nearly a third of the book consisting of notes and... Read morePublished on March 22 2004
I loved Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, "Genius". So my expectations for this book on possibly the most important mathematical and scientific figure were very... Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2004 by Ronald Brown
I am majoring in Physics at Ball State University. Looking to strenghen my historical background of Physics, I decided to start with the earliest scientists and read my way through... Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2004 by David H. Wilkerson
Over 350 years biographies on Newton have dealt with facts or speculations about his heretical beliefs and personal oddities. Gleick has achieved something astonishingly different. Read morePublished on Jan. 31 2004 by Pieter Wagener
I was not immediately aware of the philosophical "dual" between Newton and Decartes re. the force behind planetary and universal motion. Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2004 by T. Kepler