Isaac Newton is an elegantly written, insightful work that brings Newton to life and does him justice. Its brevity, which may or may not have been premeditated, seems to have resulted from a rare and relentless insistence on saying solely what can be said confidently and afresh.
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. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (May 16) Forecast: Despite the book's flaws, its brevity and Gleick's reputation may make this the perfect intro to Newton for readers new to him or to science. It could generate good sales. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This short biography, a New York Times Notable Book in hardcover, is remarkably clear, despite its sometimes-difficult scientific subject matter. The book is relatively brief and includes a few scattered, helpful illustrations. Gleick probes some of Newton's personal idiosyncrasies without engaging in wild speculation, and he renders the heart and soul of Newton's physics with simple (but not simplistic) formulations. I doubt students will find any life of the man more accessible. There are good notes and source lists, as well as an index with useful subheadings. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Random House, Vintage, 272p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
The author of Genius, the acclaimed biography of Richard Feynman, Gleick has produced a very accessible, well-researched, and enjoyable portrait of Isaac Newton. Writing for general readers, he tones down the inevitable mathematics to a manageable level, presenting his subject in his scientific glory and in his less well known roles of heretic, alchemist, and recluse; he also reveals how Newton's mathematical ideas were instrumental in creating what we now call the scientific worldview. If your collection needs a more scholarly and in-depth work on Newton, you should also consider Richard Westfall's The Life of Isaac Newton and Patricia Fara's Newton: The Making of a Genius. For a good look at Newton's alchemical and mystical side, see Michael White's Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer. With extensive notes and a bibliography, Gleick's latest work is highly recommended for public and general collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Eric D. Albright, Tufts Univ. Health Science Lib., Boston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Science author and journalist Gleick (Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, 1999, etc.) traces with equal measures of irony and sympathy the life of an Enlightenment icon as notable for misery, backbiting, paranoia, deceit, and greed as brilliance. Fatherless, left in the care of his grandparents for eight years, young Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was so maladjusted that he threatened to torch the house of his mother and stepfather with them inside. His schoolmaster and uncle rescued him from life on the farm by getting him admitted to Trinity College at Cambridge. In 1666, when the college was stricken by plague, he returned home and embarked on his landmark mathematical studies. Yet his magnum opus, Principia (1687), came only after years of half-hints to scientific colleagues and controversies over plagiarism. Gleick spends much effort elaborating how Newton followed up on imperfectly intuited hypotheses by Galileo and Descartes to derive laws related to gravitation, inertia, planetary motion, and optics. But inevitably the focus shifts to how this loveless, largely friendless man tried to peer into the heart of the world’s mysteries. Unable to purge "occult, hidden, mystical qualities from his vision of nature," the scientist’s research encompassed not just mathematics but also two more disreputable covert enterprises: alchemy and unorthodox scriptural interpretation. Newton evinced "implacable ruthlessness" toward scientists Robert Hooke, Christiaan Huygens, John Flamsteed, and Gottfried Leibniz. Hair and clothing askew, he scratched diagrams with his stick in the walkways of Trinity and, as the half-century mark approached, experienced a nervous breakdown. In his last threedecades, he grew rich as the college’s Warden and later Master of the Mint. For all his faults, Gleick notes, Newton’s legacy is clear: "He bequeathed to science, that institution in its throes of birth, a research program, practical and open-ended." Engaging, concise biography of a monumental visionary and eccentric whose life was as remarkable as the universe he struggled to understand. (16 b&w illustrations)
"The biography of choice. . . . Newton the man emerges from the shadows."The New York Times Book Review
“Succinct, elegant. . . . A sharp, beautifully written introduction to the man." The Wall Street Journal
“A masterpiece of brevity and concentration. Isaac Newton sees its angular subject in the round, presenting him as scientist and magician, believer and heretic, monster and man. . . . It will surely stand as the definitive study for a very long time to come. Fortunate Newton!” John Banville, The Guardian
“Gleick [is] a clever tour guide to the minds of great geniuses. . . . Isaac Newton sheds new light on the difficult personality of a deeply enigmatic figure.” Seattle Post-Intellignceer
“Elegant, jewel-like…he does not waste a word… Gleick has given us the man and his mind in their full crazyness.” The New York Times
“A compelling page-turner. . . . Gleick [is] a clever tour guide to the minds of great geniuses. Isaac Newton sheds new light on the difficult personality of a deeply enigmatic figure.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Beautifully flesh[es] out the alchemical dialectic, its balancing act between the spiritual and the gross.” —The Boston Globe
“An elegantly written, insightful work that brings Newton to life and does him justice. . . . Gleick proves to be not only a sound explicator of Newton's science but also a capable literary stylist, whose understated empathy with his subject lets us almost see through Newton's eyes.” —Los Angeles Times
“The biography of choice for the interested layman. . . . [Gleick] makes this multifaceted life remarkably accessible.” The New York Times Book Review
“For the casual reader with a serious interest in Newton’s life and work, I recommend Gleick’s biography as an excellent place to start. It has three important virtues. It is accurate, it is readable, and it is short…. Gleick has gone back to the original notebooks and brought [Newton] to life.” —Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books
“The best short life of science’s most perplexing figure.” —New Scientist
“Written with enormous enthusiasm and verve and in a style that is often closer to poetry than prose. [Gleick] explains the fundamentals with clarity and grace. His ease with the science is the key to the book’s delight.” —The Economist
“[Gleick is] one of the best science writers of our time. . . . He has exhumed from mountains of historical documents and letters a compelling portrait of a man who held the cards of his genius and near madness close to his chest. Gleick’s book [is] hard to put down.” —Toronto Globe and Mail
“Brilliant. . . . The great scientist is brought into sharp focus and made more accessible. Highly recommended.” —The Tucson Citizen
“Marvellously rich, elegant and poetic. . . . [Gleick’s] great talent is the ability to unravel complex ideas without talking down. Books on Newton abound, but Gleick’s fresh, intimate and beautifully composed account succeeds where many fail, in eloquently dramatizing the strange power of his subject’s vision.” The Times (London)
“Gleick . . . has transformed mainstream academic research into an exciting story. Gleick has done a marvelous job of recreating intellectual life in Britain around the end of the 17th century. He excels at translating esoteric discussions into clear, simple explanations that make sense to modern people.” —Science
“James Gleick . . . makes the most of his extraordinary material, providing us with a deftly crafted vision of the great mathematician as a creator, and victim, of his age. . . . [Isaac Newton] is a perfect antidote to the many vast, bloated scientific biographies that currently flood the marketand also acts a superb starting point for anyone interested in the life of one of the world's few, undisputed geniuses.” The Observer
“Gleick . . . brings to bear on Newton’s life and thought the same clarity of understanding and expression that brought order to chaos in his first volume [Chaos: Making a New Science].” —The Daily Herald
“Moving . . . [Gleick’s] biography is perhaps the most accessible to date. He is an elegant writer, brisk without being shallow, excellent on the essence of the work, and revealing in his account of Newton’s dealings with the times.” —Financial Times
“You can’t get much more entertaining than Isaac Newton–as described by James Gleick, that is.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Huge in scope and profound in depth. . . . The extent of Newton’s genius is revealed in breathtaking detail. . . . A remarkable and challenging work and does full justice to its subject.” Yorkshire Evening Post