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The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

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  • Posted January 9, 2012

    Well worth the read

    At Newton's funeral dukes and lords bore his coffin to its final resting place in England's national cathedral with honors and distinctions literally above that of princes. The fate of Newton's nemesis, Leibniz, not much less of a towering intellectual figure of the 17th/18th centuries, was an unmarked grave and, until recently, relative obscurity. Although Edward Dolnick's book, The Clockwork Universe, is concerned primarily with the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the dawn of modern science, there is enough detail in the book about the times to raise the question - Why England? The answer in part, according to Dolnick, lies with the founding of the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge and, in part, with contrasting theological views of England and the continent. Neither Newton nor Leibniz were born to nobility or great ease. They both succeeded on the strength of their intellects. But while Leibniz was never little more than an intellectual court jester dependent on the whim of the continental European aristocracy, we find Newton comfortably enough ensconced in a university position at an early age with enough resources to support a ample experimental laboratory and enough leisure time to ponder and publish on the deepest secrets of the universe. Dolnick has provided a very readable, thoroughly research and well-documented (more than 25% of the text is devoted to notes and references) history of the intellectual development of calculus and the physics (at least in Newton's case) that sometimes preceded (e.g. Galileo) and sometimes followed close behind. For some reason the author chose to break the text into 53 chapters (averaging less than 6 pages per chapter) which tends to break the flow of the arguments unnecessarily at times. A little more technical detail on the fundamentals of calculus and a little more on the temper of the times in England could have fit nicely into the white space left by so many chapter breaks. Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

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