Book Review: Isaac Newton, by James Gleich

Isaac Newton is arguably the most important physicist and the most important mathematician.  In physics, he discovered his three Laws of Motion, Universal Gravitation and a raft of things in optics and other sciences as well as inventing the reflecting telescope.  In mathematics his great invention was the calculus.

James Gleich wrote a justly popular biography of Richard Feynman, but Feynman was a very charismatic character.  Newton was reclusive, unfriendly, and habitually secretive, so he is a much harder target for a biographer.  Even many of his notebooks disappeared from public view for centuries.

Gleich sketches his childhood.  His father died when he was small, his mother remarried and her husband didn't want him around so he was shipped off for a number of years.  Some of his earliest experimentation was with sundials, which he made many of.  He was always an experimenter and builder of tools.

His years at Cambridge were filled with study but he was all but invisible to colleagues and students.  One can hardly imagine a more diligent or intense student, reading everything in mathematics, theology, and alchemy to name a few.  He read with an intense and critical eye, with keen attention to the flaws of his predecessors.

Gleich's biography is a good overview of his life, work, and feuds - the latter were important - but does not really provide a deep look at his discoveries.


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