Isaac Newton by James Gleick: a book review


Isaac Newton by James Gleick

I recently read the wonderful biography Isaac Newton by talented science writer James Gleick. This book was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. The Guardian called it “a masterpiece of brevity and concentration,” and I would indeed have liked it to have been slightly longer, because the story it tells is fascinating.


Isaac Newton in 1689

Newton overcame a troubled childhood and made enormous contributions to the physics of motion and light, as well as to the calculus. However, he was also interested in theology and alchemy, and ran the Royal Mint. A complex man – and Gleick tells his story well.


Newton experimented extensively with lenses and prisms

Newton’s legacy transformed physics. For example, inspired by Newton’s formulation of gravity, Edmond Halley predicted the return of the comet that bears his name, as well as the eclipse of 1715. The descendants of Newton’s reflecting telescope helped develop modern astronomy.


Halley’s eclipse prediction

I can certainly recommend this short, but interesting, biography.

* * * *
Isaac Newton by James Gleick: 4 stars

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