Isaac Newton by James GleickIsaac Newton was born in a stone farmhouse in 1642, fatherless and unwanted by his mother. When he died in London in 1727 he was so renowned he was given a state funeral—an unheard-of honor for a subject whose achievements were in the realm of the intellect. During the years he was an irascible presence at Trinity College, Cambridge, Newton imagined properties of nature and gave them names—mass, gravity, velocity—things our science now takes for granted. Inspired by Aristotle, spurred on by Galileo’s discoveries and the philosophy of Descartes, Newton grasped the intangible and dared to take its measure, a leap of the mind unparalleled in his generation.
James Gleick, the author of Chaos and Genius, and one of the most acclaimed science writers of his generation, brings the reader into Newton’s reclusive life and provides startlingly clear explanations of the concepts that changed forever our perception of bodies, rest, and motion. Ideas so basic to the twenty-first century we literally take them for granted.
Isaac Newton today is venerated as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived -- the father of classical mechanics and co-creator of calculus. But in his day, Newton was known for many things, including some very bizarre behavior and a personality that might be considered quirky at best. Fact 1: Newton was a big-time sinner. At least he thought he was. At the tender age of 19, the future mathematician committed to paper a list of 48 sins of which he was guilty. Transgressions ranged from "peevishness" at his mother to "having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.
The experience of being abandoned by his mother scarred Newton and likely played a role in shaping his solitary, untrusting nature. He even remained silent about some of his scientific and mathematical discoveries for years, if he published them at all. At age 12, Newton was enrolled in a school in Grantham, where he boarded at the home of the local apothecary because the daily walk from Woolsthorpe Manor was too long. However, at age 15 or 16, he was ordered to quit school by his mother then widowed for a second time and return to Woolsthorpe Manor to become a farmer. The teen was uninterested in the job and fared poorly at it. After finishing his coursework there, Newton left for Trinity College, University of Cambridge in , putting farming behind him for good. In , following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor.
The Newton Project. Especially in the earlier part of his life, Newton was a deeply introverted character and fiercely protective of his privacy. The most famous example of this is his carefully-orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of Gottfried Leibniz, who he believed quite unfairly had stolen the discovery of calculus from him. Yet he was also capable of great generosity and kindness, and there is no lack of tributes to his affability and hospitality, at least in his later years. He seems, however, to have made a full recovery by the end of the year. His father died before he was born. It has also been suggested - though this is purely conjectural and much disputed - that he was a repressed homosexual, which if true would undoubtedly have placed a man of his background and upbringing under extreme mental strain.
Newton also made seminal contributions to optics , and shares credit with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing the infinitesimal calculus. In Principia , Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint until it was superseded by the theory of relativity. Newton used his mathematical description of gravity to prove Kepler's laws of planetary motion , account for tides , the trajectories of comets , the precession of the equinoxes and other phenomena, eradicating doubt about the Solar System 's heliocentricity. He demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and celestial bodies could be accounted for by the same principles. Newton's inference that the Earth is an oblate spheroid was later confirmed by the geodetic measurements of Maupertuis , La Condamine , and others, convincing most European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over earlier systems. Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a sophisticated theory of colour based on the observation that a prism separates white light into the colours of the visible spectrum.