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4 September 1980
A Portrait of Isaac​ Newton 
by Frank Manuel.
Muller, 478 pp., £11.75, April 1980, 0 584 95357 7
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Philosopher at War: The Quarrel between Newton​ and Leibniz 
by Rupert Hall.
Cambridge, 338 pp., £15, July 1980, 0 521 22732 1
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... There are at least three possible portraits of IsaacNewton. Traditional internalist historians of science depict him as an aloof scholar, remote from the world, solving in his Cambridge ivory tower problems which derived logically from the state of ...
15 July 1982
The Newton​ Letter 
by John Banville.
Secker, 82 pp., £5.95, May 1982, 0 436 03265 1
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... The unnamed narrator of John Banville’s novel is an academic who spends the summer on a run-down country estate in Ireland where he hopes to put the finishing touches to a book on IsaacNewton. Gradually, his research takes a back seat as he becomes fascinated with the family on whose property he is living. Edward Lawless is a wreck of a man, clumsy, inarticulate, frequently drunk; his ...
20 January 2011
Newton​ and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist 
by Thomas Levenson.
Faber, 318 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22993 2
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... for his boldness in denouncing his betters as ‘connivers (at least) at many Abuses and Cheats’, and also for having the nerve to lay accusations of malpractice against ‘that Worthy Gentleman IsaacNewton Esq.’ No one could read about the life and death of William Chaloner without suspecting that there may be more to it than meets the eye. Was he as guilty as he was made out to be, or was he ...

Somewhat Divine

Simon Schaffer: Isaac Newton

16 November 2000
Isaac NewtonThe ‘Principia’ Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy 
translated by I. Bernard Cohen.
California, 974 pp., £22, September 1999, 0 520 08817 4
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... treatise given a most notable instance of the extent of the powers of the mind.’ This is how the very first review of the Principia began, in summer 1687: from the start, you were forced to admire Newton’s modesty, and his genius. The reviewer, the young astronomer Edmond Halley, knew what he was talking about. Three years earlier, during a visit to Cambridge, he had posed the puzzle which started ...

I tooke a bodkine

Jonathan Rée: Esoteric Newton

9 October 2013
Newton​ and the Origin of Civilisation 
by Jed Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold.
Princeton, 528 pp., £34.95, October 2012, 978 0 691 15478 7
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... The life of IsaacNewton falls into two halves, and the main problem for Newton studies is how to fit them together. In the first half he was a sulky Cambridge mathematician who, at the age of 44, astonished the world with a work of natural science that was soon recognised as ...

Sailing Scientist

Steven Shapin: Edmund Halley

2 July 1998
Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas 
by Alan Cook.
Oxford, 540 pp., £29.50, December 1997, 0 19 850031 9
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... Joined for all time on the title-page of the Book that Made the Modern World are IsaacNewton (who wrote the Principia Mathematica) and Samuel Pepys (who, as President of the Royal Society, licensed it to be printed). It is one of the oddest couples in the history of thought: the man who, as ...

Nobel Savage

Steven Shapin: Kary Mullis

1 July 1999
Dancing Naked in the Mind Field 
by Kary Mullis.
Bloomsbury, 209 pp., £12.99, March 1999, 0 7475 4376 3
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... In one of the most celebrated expressions of scientific humility, IsaacNewton said that he felt himself to have been ‘only like a boy playing on the seashore . . . whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me’. Kary Mullis approaches the seashore from a ...

After the Deluge

Peter Campbell: How Rainbows Work

25 April 2002
The Rainbow Bridge: Rainbows in Art, Myth and Science 
by Raymond Lee and Alistair Fraser.
Pennsylvania State, 394 pp., £54.95, June 2001, 0 271 01977 8
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... with red, under which I could not distinguish any more colours. Langwith then went on, as Raymond Lee and Alistair Fraser put it, to question the rainbow wisdom of the Royal Society’s President, IsaacNewton: ‘I begin now to imagine, that the Rainbow seldom appears very lively without something of this Nature, and that the suppos’d exact Agreement between the Colours of the Rainbow and those ...

Joining them

Conrad Russell

24 January 1985
Goodwin Wharton 
by J. Kent Clark.
Oxford, 408 pp., £15, November 1984, 0 19 212234 7
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Witchcraft and Religion 
by Christina Larner.
Blackwell, 184 pp., October 1984, 0 631 13447 6
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Lordship to Patronage: Scotland 1603-1745 
by Rosalind Mitchison.
Arnold, 198 pp., £5.95, November 1983, 0 7131 6313 5
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... things which make his flirtations with the occult such amusing reading also make it difficult to compare his doings with those of anyone else. He is a figure of the same chronological vintage as Sir IsaacNewton, dabbling in alchemy and gravity by turns, and he exhibits a perhaps comparable mixture (though in very different proportions) of the open-minded and the credulous. Coming as he does right on ...

Cosmic Inflation

David Kaiser: The Future of the Universe

6 February 2014
Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe 
by Lee Smolin.
Allen Lane, 319 pp., £20, April 2013, 978 1 84614 299 4
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... The Austrian polymath Ernst Mach exhorted his fellow physicists in the early 1880s to recognise that all was not well with their discipline. Two hundred years earlier, IsaacNewton had bequeathed to them a remarkable system of laws which made it possible for them to describe – and predict – the motion of everything from an apple falling from a tree near Woolsthorpe to the ...


José Harris

1 December 1983
John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920 
by Robert Skidelsky.
Macmillan, 447 pp., £14.95, November 1983, 0 333 11599 6
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... and intellectual contexts are woven together with admirable persuasiveness and clarity. The man himself remains – so far – curiously distant and opaque. As Keynes himself wrote in his essay on IsaacNewton, ‘geniuses are very peculiar,’ and it may be the case that no academic account can fully recapture Keynes’s extraordinary mixture of grossness and sensitivity, intuition and logical ...
2 April 1981
The First Moderns: The Architects of the Eighteenth Century 
by Joseph Rykwert.
M.I.T., 585 pp., £27.50, September 1980, 0 262 18090 1
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... had not written yet. But it turns out – another exciting discovery – that Sir Christopher Wren, despite his admiration for Perrault’s writings, was also interested in the occult, and that IsaacNewton considered the Temple of Solomon ‘the original divine exemplar for all building’. Newton saw the drawings of the Temple made by the antiquarian William Stukeley. Where Villalpando’s ...

Among the Sandemanians

John Hedley Brooke

25 July 1991
Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist 
by Geoffrey Cantor.
Macmillan, 359 pp., £40, May 1991, 0 333 55077 3
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... of nature in regulating the direction of his research. In interpreting the book of God’s words and the book of his works certain parallels can be drawn. That earlier master of nature’s forces, IsaacNewton, had specified rules for the correct reading of each. It is striking how similar they were for the two books, Newton himself having drawn attention to the quest for simplicity as a common ...
24 March 1994
Marsigli’s Europe 1680-1730 
by John Stoye.
Yale, 356 pp., £29.95, February 1994, 0 300 05542 0
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... Already in 1691 he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1721, on a visit to London, he was admitted in person to his fellowship, and had the privilege of being welcomed by Sir IsaacNewton. During his later years he pursued his researches in Italy, Provence and Switzerland, and – obsessed as ever by water – collected materials for another book, a Physical History of the Sea ...

Eye Candy

Julian Bell: Colour

19 July 2007
Colour in Art 
by John Gage.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £9.95, February 2007, 978 0 500 20394 1
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... later Impressionism, psychology and phenomenology, though it fell foul of most physicists, who stuck by the text Goethe wanted to undermine, the authoritative Opticks, published a century before by IsaacNewton. Did either have an effect on painting? It’s true that the elderly Turner read Goethe with critical sympathy, and Gage also shows that Newton’s spectrum features here and there in 18th ...

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