Isaac Newton : A Review

Sir Isaac Newton is regarded as a genius. I recently got hold of his biography written by James Gleick, who has also authored Genius and Chaos. I always wanted to know more about Newton’s life. Having known Einstein’s biography, I was curious to know how Newton’s life was. “Newton was not a pleasant man“, is a statement about him that always comes to my mind, after having read Stephen Hawking’s review about Isaac Newton. He had too many adversaries and never had any friends. He was very lonely in his life ever since he was born. He was fatherless and his mother never wanted him. He neither got married nor did he ever involve in any relationship with any woman. His life is really intriguing.

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After knowing such less facts about his life, I always wanted to read more about his life. This book is very small and gives a brief overview of Newton’s life. It is not very technical with too many details. I found it little disappointing since it is written in a layman language, helpful for non-science students. There is no mathematics at all in it, which is what I expected to find. But still it mentions all the concepts in Mathematics that Newton came up with, starting with Differential and Integral calculus to Binomial theorems, Ellipses, curves, centre of curvature, radius of curvature, cycloid etc. Even though I knew about some of his works, I never knew that Newton has contributed so much to Science and Mathematics, until I read the book. I am really in awe of this man.

He truly is a genius. I cannot think of another scientist who can be of match to him. No wonder he was the first scientist to receive Knighthood. It also talks about all the arguments that Newton got involved into. The famous one with Leibniz over calculus, the hatredness that Hooke and he had for each other. It also speaks of how he took Flamsteed’s findings and published them even though Flamsteed did not approve of it. It also talks about Newton’s interests in alchemy and his work on element Mercury, which I did not have much idea about. It also talks about Newton’s interest in Biblical matters and how he was not inclined towardsΒ Catholicism. His contributions to time, space and motion, his findings on planetary motion, movement of the moon, tides, comets are commendable. He invented the reflecting telescope (one of which I own :D).

Now that gravity is like a matter of common sense these days, it is interesting to know what people felt back then. How people thought it was something supernatural or magical and how they condemned Newton for that. I loved the lines which Newton had written and the author has quoted where he says that he did not care about what others thought and that he was satisfied that it had a mathematical backing πŸ™‚ And like I had read earlier that the apple falling on the head did not lead him to find out gravity, the author confirms this theory saying Newton never mentioned that in any of his notebooks.

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One of the most interesting facts about Newton that I learned was that Newton never did any kind of research to get acclaim. He worked on problems and came up with solutions only for “himself”. He always wanted to learn the ways of nature and it was his thirst for knowledge that made him explore more. Another interesting fact about him was that even though he had done lot of work on light and color, only after others forced him, he published his work after thirty years. He never published his findings, he liked to keep them to himself. The author says a lot about Newton’s involvement with Royal society and how he ended up becoming the president of it later on.

What I liked in the book were the quotes, statements, figures drawn/written by Newton himself that the author has quoted. It feels good to read what Newton had written in letters to other scientists or the notes that he took in his book about his findings. Because of the presence of such authentic writings, you tend to believe in everything the author says about Newton. A thorough research about his life has been done by James Gleick and he needs to be praised for that.

However not much light has been cast on some of the important phases of Newton’s life. He had a nervous breakdown at the age of fifty or so and I really wanted to know more about how he recovered from it, but it has been very briefly mentioned. Even though the author has mentioned lines from letters that Newton wrote to other scientists, it still felt incomplete.

Overall: It is a great book if you want to know more about Newton’s life. A very interesting read and because of its size, does not take much time to complete it. I would give this book 4/5.

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52 thoughts on “Isaac Newton : A Review

  1. as per dan brown he was a free mason too..no mention of that? personally..as a school kid i wished he sat under a jackfruit tree(if at all it grew on trees) wen he thot of gravity.

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    • Oh yeah he was an Illuminati too according to Dan Brown but there is no mention at all about it in this book. Like I said, the author has left out many important phases of Newton’s life. Jackfruit tree? poor guy. he would have cracked his head πŸ˜›

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  2. A very nice review AK πŸ™‚ I need to get hold of the book. I always revered Newton and mechanics was my favorite topic in Physics so I was pretty disappointed when I read that line – ‘Newton was not a pleasant man’ in A Brief History of Time. Recently I read in an article in The Hindu that apart from being an unequaled mathematical genius, Newton was a deeply religious man and devoted much of his later life to alchemy. I still remember the lines Alexander Pope wrote praising Newton –

    Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night
    God said let Newton be
    And all was light!

    Do read Newton’s Principia for the Common Reader by Nobel laureate S Chandrasekhar for his beautiful and ingenious methods and proofs. You’ll be more in awe of Newton. We can only wonder and marvel in the legacy the greatest among the great left behind πŸ™‚ And yeah, excuse the long comment, please πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks Ajay.. I loved mechanics and even optics in Physics.. so just loved this book since it spoke about so many inventions by Newton, though nothing was described in detail.. I will read that book by Chandrasekhar.. thanks for suggesting that.. I really wanted to know more from Mathematics side but this book on Newton that I read, seriously lacked in that.. πŸ™‚

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  3. I love the biographies because its about the man like us.. yet to read Newton’s life and also Einstein’s..

    this is a nice read AK.. I loved the way you have said few things happened in Newton’s life which makes me curious about this book πŸ™‚

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    • yeah do read Newton’s and Einstein’s.. Einstein’s is very interesting too.. how he came up with the relativity theory and how it took many yrs to just prove that his theory actually works is very interesting!! Also read “The world as I see it”, written by Einstein himself πŸ™‚
      Thanks Kanagu..

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  4. πŸ™‚

    I guess not many people know about these achievements of Newton which you have mentioned. Wonder how he got the never ending passion to explore newer horizons of science.

    Just goes to show what use the mind can be put to if it is spared from relationships and women… πŸ˜›

    πŸ˜€

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    • yeah even I wasnt aware of some of his achievements before reading the book.. probably since he led a lonely life, he found lot of free time and he spent those on thinking about such real life problems.. but still he is a genius πŸ™‚

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  5. […] It also speaks of how he took Flamsteed’s findings and published them even though Flamsteed did not approve of it. […]

    Great review and interesting blog you have here! I’d read a lot of things about Newton but never actually came across this fact. It’s really quite fascinating and Wikipedia has an even more interesting (and hilarious, depending on your point of view) tidbit on the affair:

    […] in 1712 Newton and Edmond Halley published a preliminary version of Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica without crediting the author. Some years later, Flamsteed managed to buy many copies of the book, and publicly burnt them in front of the Royal Observatory […]

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    • Thanks Firas and welcome to my blog! πŸ™‚ thanks for wikipedia snippet.. It was a very hilarious affair they have mentioned. Not sure if that is true, this book that I read did not mention about that incident..

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  6. The last biography I read was about John Nash (A beautiful mind). Had a lot of details into his personal life as well as technical details about his work & theories. Liked it too. But somehow I still prefer an autobiography simply cause its the actual view of the person rather than a 3rd person’s point of view.
    Nowadays Wikipedia helps me if I ever want to learn about someone’s life πŸ˜€

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    • I am now reading A beautiful mind, after having watched the movie innumerable times πŸ™‚ His work is great too.. Nash’s equilibrium has so many applications in so many different fields.. yeah autobiography is always better.. I like “Surely you’re joking Mr.Fenymann” a lot, only because it was written by Fenymann himself πŸ™‚

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  8. Interesting indeed! Thanks a ton.

    That bit about the apple falling on his head…WHOA. they teach us that in school no? That THAT was what led Newton to discover gravity πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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    • Thanks Scorpria.. yeah apple falling on head is what I have been hearing and reading since childhood but recently when I read some other books, people have mentioned that it might be a story formulated by other people just for amusement and did not actually happen. It took Newton decades to come up with gravity and he did not come up with it in a min..

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  9. Great review. I hope that famous incident involving his dog Diamond was also covered. Many people say it’s just a story….and there’s not much truth into it. Is that so?
    Hoping to read it sometime in the future…right now I’ve too many names on my to-be-read list.

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    • Thanks Sammy.. the book doesnt mention about any dog at all.. not sure if the author has skipped mentioning about it here or if the whole story is a hoax.. I am so much interested in knowing about his life now that I want to grab more biographies on Newton..

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    • yeah Edison is another genius and I have read his biography too! Newton was the only scientist about whom I did not know anything properly.. he is still a mystery to me.. a very complicated personality!
      Thanks LR!

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  10. oye …

    but i know newton’s mom stood up for him always ! esp w his teacher … loneliness figures … imagine eating an apple and thinking abt how it fell !

    love ur template

    TC .. and get well soon !

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  11. starting with Differential and Integral calculus to Binomial theorems, Ellipses, curves, centre of curvature, radius of curvature, cycloid etc… Showing off your mathematical knowledge aa πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚ – But I am not much worried about that, as people can showoff, especially in their own blogs!

    But what worries me is, the character of Newton exactly matches mine but without any kind of scientific inclinations at all!!!! πŸ˜›

    Destination Infinity

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    • hehe πŸ™‚ Maths was one of my fav subjects (only because it was the subject in which I would get highest marks always).. πŸ™‚
      hehe.. who knows you may one day find something that will change the world πŸ˜‰ Dont forget to mention my name if you ever get to the Nobel prize distribution podium.. I encouraged you, remember that πŸ˜€

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    • Yeah Newton’s life is very interesting.. Diwali was great! πŸ™‚ How was yours? Had loads of fun but now got hand fractured so having the worst time of my life.. waiting desp for HP7 too! πŸ™‚

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    • Hey Vimuuuu.. glad to see you back on blogosphere πŸ™‚ you took such a long break that I had started missing your posts.. so good to see you πŸ™‚ hehe.. jackfruit? poor Newton.. such evil ideas you get..
      Btw check out my best animation movies (few posts older).. want your expert comments.. I know you love animated movies so wondering which ones are your fav ones..

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  12. Another book that tells a lot about Newton is ‘The Calculus Wars’ by Jason S. Bardi. It documents the dispute over the discovery of calculus between Newton and Leibniz in great detail. However, just like most popular science books, this one also does not have any mathematics.

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  13. Pingback: November ebooks haul | Bookish Muggle

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