Isaac Newton (Lives and Legacies Series)

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Quarrelsome and quirky, a disheveled recluse who ate little, slept less, and yet had an iron constitution, Isaac Newton rose from a virtually illiterate family to become one of the towering intellects of science. Now, in this fast-paced, colorful biography, Gale E. Christianson paints an engaging portrait of Newton and the times in which he lived.
We follow Newton from his childhood in rural England to his student days at Cambridge, where he devoured the works of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and taught himself mathematics. There ensued two miraculous years at home in Woolsthorpe Manor, where he fled when plague threatened Cambridge, a remarkably fertile period when Newton formulated his theory of gravity, a new theory of light, and calculus—all by his twenty-fourth birthday. Christianson describes Newton's creation of the first working model of the reflecting telescope, which brought him to the attention of the Royal Society, and he illuminates the eighteen months of intense labor that resulted in his Principia, arguably the most important scientific work ever published. The book sheds light on Newton's later life as master of the mint in London, where he managed to convict and hang the arch criminal William Chaloner (a remarkable turn for a once reclusive scholar), and his presidency of the Royal Society, which he turned from a dilettante's club into an eminent scientific organization. Christianson also explores Newton's less savory side, including his long, bitter feud with Robert Hooke and the underhanded way that Newton established his priority in the invention of calculus and tarnished Liebniz's reputation.
Newton was an authentic genius with all too human faults. This book captures both sides of this truly extraordinary man.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A revealing portrait of a man who helped revolutionize science."—Kirkus Review

"Christianson knows everything there is to know about Isaac, including what will remain mysterious, and recounts it enthrallingly."—Harpers

Publishers Weekly
Christianson has built a small empire of Newton biographies, including the full-length In the Presence of the Creator and the much briefer Isaac Newton and the Scientific Revolution. In fact, this volume is more or less identical to the briefer one, published by Oxford in 1996 as part of its young adult Portraits in Science series. The relatively simple prose betrays its origins, but the book itself gives a solid and accessible introduction to the life and work of Newton (1642-1727), from his early days at Cambridge to his time as a member of Parliament in the critical year of 1689, after King James II fled to France, and the political battles that surrounded Newton's later work as master of the mint. "Newton was a loner pure and simple, secure in the knowledge that he was without peers when it came to almost all matters cerebral," Christianson writes. This biography works best as a brief introduction for general readers; those familiar with the general history of science (or, for that matter, those who've read Neal Stephenson's vastly more nuanced if fictional portrayal of Newton in his Baroque Cycle) will find little that isn't familiar. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Slender but detailed life of the famed scientist and inventor. Isaac Newton was fortunate enough to have traded up at birth: his small-landholding father died and his mother married a rich man and insisted that her son be given a trust fund, allowing him to live comfortably-if at a distance, since the price of having that fund meant living with his grandparents. Thus spurned, Newton plotted revenge, for, as Christianson (The Last Posse, 2001, etc.) writes, he could carry a grudge forever. Small and weak, Newton was still a scrapper, unafraid of a fight; but when he wasn't scrumming, he was under a tree or a hedge with some difficult book, and when he arrived at Cambridge, in 1661, he was primed to do great things. He was soon a fellow and master, and before he was 24, he "had become the most advanced mathematician the world had yet known" by developing fluxions, or what is now called the calculus, by which a scientist could describe quantities that are constantly changing. While doing so, Newton had also been keeping careful notes on gravitation-inspired, as the old story goes, by the falling of an apple-and on the nature of the solar system, all of which would yield publications that would cinch Newton's fame. For all his renown, Newton was ready to rumble, as when he accused a young German named Gottfried Leibniz of plagiarism and entangled himself in an unseemly feud with fellow astronomer John Flamsteed. In both instances, Christianson shows, Newton played Nixonian tricks to make sure he won out: In the first case, he called together a high-powered committee to review his charge that Leibniz had stolen the calculus from him, but "handpicked every committee member, stacking the deckagainst the faraway Leibniz from the beginning."Dirty politics via committee? Newton truly was a modern. Though light on equations and proofs, Christianson offers a revealing portrait of a man who helped revolutionize science.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195300703
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Series: Lives and Legacies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 375,447
  • Age range: 13 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gale E. Christianson is retired from Indiana State University, where he served as Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History. Among his many books are In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times, Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae, and Greenhouse: The 200-Hundred Year Story of Global Warming. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Huntington Library Fellow, and the recipient of numerous other grants and awards. Christianson lives in Terre Haute, where he continues to research and write.

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