Seduced by Logic: Emilie Du Chatelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution

Seduced by Logic: Emilie Du Chatelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution

by Robyn Arianrhod

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Overview

Newton's explanation of the natural law of universal gravity shattered the way mankind perceived the universe, and hence it was not immediately embraced. After all, how can anyone warm to a force that cannot be seen or touched? But for two women, separated by time and space but joined in their passion for Newtonian physics, the intellectual power of that force drove them to great achievements. Brilliant, determined, and almost entirely self-taught, they dedicated their lives to explaining and disseminating Newton's discoveries.

Robyn Arianrhod's Seduced by Logic tells the story of Emilie du Chatelet and Mary Somerville, who, despite living a century apart, were connected by their love for mathematics and their places at the heart of the most advanced scientific society of their age. When Newton published his revolutionary theory of gravity, in his monumental Principia of 1687, most of his Continental peers rejected it for its reliance on physical observation and mathematical insight instead of religious or metaphysical hypotheses. But the brilliant French aristocrat and intellectual Emilie du Chatelet and some of her early eighteenth-century Enlightenment colleagues--including her lover, Voltaire--realized the Principia had changed everything, marking the beginning of theoretical science as a predictive, quantitative, and secular discipline. Emilie devoted herself to furthering Newton's ideas in France, and her translation of the Principia is still the accepted French version of this groundbreaking work. Almost a century later, in Scotland, Mary Somerville taught herself mathematics and rose from genteel poverty to become a world authority on Newtonian physics. She was feted by the famous French Newtonian, Pierre Simon Laplace, whose six-volume Celestial Mechanics was considered the greatest intellectual achievement since the Principia. Laplace's work was the basis of Mary's first book, Mechanism of the Heavens; it is a bittersweet irony that this book, written by a woman denied entry to university because of her gender, remained an advanced university astronomy text for the next century.

Combining biography, history, and popular science, Seduced by Logic not only reveals the fascinating story of two incredibly talented women, but also brings to life a period of dramatic political and scientific change. With lucidity and skill, Arianrhod explains the science behind the story, and explores - through the lives of her protagonists - the intimate links between the unfolding Newtonian revolution and the development of intellectual and political liberty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199931613
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,065,961
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Robyn Arianrhod is an Honorary Research Associate in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Monash University. She is the author of Einstein's Heroes.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Madame Newton du Châtelet 6

2 Creating the theory of gravity: the Newtonian controversy 12

3 Learning mathematics and fighting for freedom 20

4 Émilie and Voltaire's Academy of Free Thought 37

5 Testing Newton: the 'New Argonauts' 56

6 The danger in Newton: life, love and politics 67

7 The nature of light: Émilie takes on Newton 80

8 Searching for 'energy': Émilie discovers Leibniz 97

9 Mathematics and free will 114

10 The re-emergence of Madame Newton du Châtelet 132

11 Love letters to Saint-Lambert 147

12 Mourning Émilie 155

13 Mary Fairfax Somerville 161

14 The long road to fame 175

15 Mechanism of the Heavens 197

16 Mary's second book: popular science in the nineteenth century 214

17 Finding light waves: the 'Newtonian Revolution' comes of age 227

18 Mary Somerville: a fortunate life 244

Epilogue: Declaring a point of view 252

Appendix 258

Notes and Sources 286

Bibliography 318

Acknowledgments 328

Index 329

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