From Publishers Weekly
This scholarly but accessible social history examines the reasons behind Isaac Newton's canonization as scientific genius, the modern-day equivalent, the author asserts, of secular sainthood. Today, schoolchildren know Newton as the pioneering empiricist who discovered the fundamental laws of nature by observing an apple fall from a tree, yet he was not a scientist. His goal was to understand God, and it was his obsession with alchemy, prophecy and ancient chronology from which his celebrated studies in gravity and optics emerged. In his lifetime, Newton's reputation had little reach outside a small circle of Cambridge scholars. By some, he was thought to be mentally unstable, even insane. By the 18th century, however, he was a national icon in England, and across the channel in revolutionary France his name had become synonymous with rational progress and egalitarian political ideals. Revelations about Newton's Faustian quest to unmask God are not uncommon biographical notes today, yet as Fara states, even Richard S. Westfall, whose biography Never at Rest is still the definitive one, perpetuates the secular myth by downplaying Newton's mysticism to focus anachronistically on his "scientific career." Fara contributes to Newton's biography by focusing on the roots of Newton's apotheosis. She examines how idealized portraits propagated Newton's public image, and how the marketing of Newtonian images outside academic circles commercialized science in the same way Einstein's face sells today. Throughout, Fara, a lecturer at Cambridge University, effectively employs the words and imagery of religious discourse to characterize the idealization and commercialization of Newton in the service of emerging secular politics and culture.
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Fara's unconventional biography explores this notion of fame-cum-sainthood, Newton's life, and the development of cultural identity spawned by a consumer revolution.
Fascinating.... Nothing seems beyond Fara's grasp in her scholarly examination of apples and alchemy, physics and fame, public relations and reputation.
An audacious and engaging examination of science, celebrity and the nature of genius.... The journey Fara takes us on is no less than the journey of science's progress in public esteem since the end of the 17th century and, as such, it is immensely valuable... beautifully done.
She simply and clearly describes the trajectory of Newton's image, both metaphorical and literal, in the form of portraits and coins....One would like to say that if Newton had not existed he would have to be invented, but what Fara shows us is that he has been invented.
The story of how a reclusive scholar who wrote mainly about alchemy and theology was transformed into history's greatest scientist, a popular hero, and an icon for our modern age.
This scholarly but accessible social history examines the reasons behind Isaac Newton's canonization as scientific genuis, the modern-day equivalent, the author asserts, of secular sainthood.
One of those books--Paul Johnson's Birth of the Modern is another--that sets you to thinking about the deep currents of thought that prevail in any given age.... An excellent survey, from all angles, of Newton's reputation.
(The New Criterion
This is...the most efficient historical biographical scetch I have ever read.
(John Fraser National Post
Fara offers a fascinating chronicle of the fate of the reputation of Newton from his own times to recent revisions... This volume is a pleasure to read.
The interested reader will discover that Newton has become an intellectual icon for our modern age not only by means of his extraordinary mathematical discoveries. Many other aspects of his life have been exploited to create the image of him. They are examined in this very interesting book.
(Massimo Galuzzi Mathematical Reviews