While the prolific Ackroyd (London, among many others), in this addition to his Brief Lives series, doesn't provide new insights into one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, he does present a well-written distillation of the life and accomplishments of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Newton's scientific achievements are legend, from the creation of calculus to the formulation of the theory of gravity. Ackroyd asserts that the devout Newton, acting largely alone, institutionalized modern scientific method by demanding data and experimentation rather than supernatural explanations based in belief. Even though Newton studied alchemy, it was always within the construct of science, says Ackroyd. The biographer presents the other side of Newton as well: his quirky personality, the insecurity that made it difficult for him to tolerate any criticism and kept him from publishing many of his ideas for extended periods. And he shows how Newton, a loner as a young man, left the isolation of Cambridge University for London and the public sphere as master of the mint and president of the prestigious Royal Society. The vindictive Newton held extended grudges for slights, real or imagined, and Ackroyd summarizes the decades-long disputes with Robert Hooke and Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed. In short, Ackroyd does a commendable job in this introduction to a very complex genius. Illus. (Apr. 15)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In describing the intellectual vigor that Isaac Newton applied to developing mathematical models of the physical world, to alchemy, to spiritual questions, and to his work with the Royal Mint, as well as his fierce defense of his status as a leading scholar, novelist and accomplished biographer Ackroyd draws a finely detailed miniature of the man renowned for his genius and for his ambition. In this third book of his "Brief Lives" series (after Chaucerand Turner), the author provides his portrait with a richly drawn background of the scientific culture of 17th-century Britain that includes the Royal Society of London and Cambridge University. Those looking for fuller treatments of Newton may be directed to Gale E. Christianson's In the Presence of the Creator, James Gleick's popular Isaac Newton, which includes illustrated discussions of some of Newton's mathematics (Ackroyd steers clear of the math), and The Cambridge Companion to Newton(edited by I. Bernard Cohen and George E. Smith), an accessible collection of essays by Newton scholars. Ackroyd's book is recommended for public libraries and undergraduate collections.
Compact biography of the great English scientist, the third in Ackroyd's Brief Lives series (Chaucer, 2005; J.M.W. Turner, 2006). Born on Christmas day 1642, Isaac Newton was the posthumous child of an illiterate yeoman farmer. His mother remarried and left him to be raised by his grandmother. At a local school, he distinguished himself by his inventiveness at creating toys and gadgets; it quickly became apparent he had no aptitude for farming. At his teacher's urging, he was sent to Cambridge, where he so excelled in math that he was appointed a professor at the age of 26. His full genius bloomed during an involuntary vacation forced by the Great Plague of 1665. He experimented with prisms to uncover the nature of light; he worked up the essentials of calculus; and he laid the foundations for a theory of gravitation. Upon his return to the academic world, he began to publish some of what he had learned. Ackroyd points out that Newton was not in any haste to make his mark; indeed, a certain secretiveness characterized his work for much of his life. He delved into alchemical and theological speculations, which he was probably just as wise not to commit to publication. (In fact, had his religious convictions become known, he would undoubtedly have had to resign his academic post.) He also indulged in a series of professional feuds, with Robert Hooke, John Flamsteed and Gottfried Leibnitz in particular, that are perhaps the most regrettable blemish on his reputation. Ackroyd gives enough of the historical context to make Newton's salient character traits and greatest accomplishments clear to the modern reader. A slim but solid introduction, akin to James Gleick's Isaac Newton (2003).
“Newton is both impeccably researched and a wonderful read. An afternoon in the backyard hammock with ‘the grand autocrat of science.’”
–Los Angeles Times
“[Ackroyd] may well be the most prolific English author of his generation. And, which I find encouraging, he can write movingly and revealingly about Isaac Newton while being no more of a scientist or mathematician than I am.”
–Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair
“Astute and beautifully written…. Not surprisingly, the prolific Mr. Ackroyd, who is the author of 12 novels as well as biographies of Dickens, Thomas More, and Shakespeare–not to mention at least four histories of London–excels at re-creating the look and feel, at once grubby and exalted, of Newton's milieu. And Newton the man comes through splendidly in all the sheer arrogance of his driven genius.”
–The New York Sun
“The brief life of Newton meets a widespread need…. Ackroyd’s writing is a great pleasure to read.”
–The New Criterion
“A terrific piece of work… this is a wonderfully writerly book, never less than elegant in construction and execution.”
“Written in splendidly elastic prose, each sentence a springboard for the next, it provides a concise, fair and highly readable biography of a singular genius'.”
“Ackroyd's essay on [Newton] is understated and elegantly constructed.”
“Beautifully written and engaging.”