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Isaac Newton


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About the Author

JAMES GLEICK is our leading chronicler of science and technology, the best-selling author of Chaos: Making a New Science, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, and The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. His books have been translated into thirty languages.



Thousands of school children know the story of Sir Isaac Newton: he watched an apple fall from a tree and discovered physics. Slightly older students might add that he is the father of modern mathematics. Over the years, many biographies have been written about the life and work of this important scientific figure. This book takes an interesting approach, quoting extensively from Newton's own writings. Alas, while "his own words" can be fascinating, too often they are merely confusing to the modern listener, especially the scientific discussions. A few well-placed subject summaries would have eliminated this problem. Gleick also seems to be obsessed with what he sees as the exceptional, tortured loneliness of the scientist's life. Aren't geniuses frequently eccentric and oftentimes lonely? In contrast, the descriptions of Newton's logical but heretical theological beliefs and highly secret alchemical studies are fascinating. Allan Corduner's charming voice and highly professional performance add to the listening experience. Quick and interesting despite the torturous scientific explanations, this program is recommended for large public and university libraries.-I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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.

"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 market--and 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

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