Let Newton Be!
In April, 1727, the French writer Voltaire viewed with astonishment the preparations for the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton. The late President of the ... Show synopsis In April, 1727, the French writer Voltaire viewed with astonishment the preparations for the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton. The late President of the Royal Society lay in state in Westminster Abbey for the week preceding the funeral on April 4th. On that day, his pall was borne in a ceremonious pageant by two dukes, three earls, and the Lord Chancellor. "He was buried," Voltaire wrote, "like a king who had done well by his subjects." Over the three hundred years since the publication of his Principia Mathematica, Newton has come to symbolize the ideal of scientist and mathematician par excellence. Let Newton Be! (the title comes from a famous couplet by Alexander Pope) explores the richness of Newton's life, labors, and legacy. What kind of scientist was Newton? What connections are there between the different strands of research he undertook? Why were his contemporaries so in awe of him? How has Newton's work left its mark on our understanding of the world? To address these questions, each chapter addresses a different aspect of Newton's life and work, making use of much new evidence about Newton uncovered in the last two decades. They consider Newton's work in mathematics and optics, his secret experiments with alchemy, his religious views (which were unconventional), the negative reaction to his work (as seen, for instance, in the poetry of William Blake), and his legacy for modern science. We learn that, were it not for Edmund Halley, Newton probably wouldn't have written his Principia at all; and that much of his work on planetary motion derived from his correspondence with Robert Hooke, a man Newton came to hate because he demanded credit for his contributions, which Newton refused to give. Richly illustrated, vividly written, and based on the latest scholarship, Let Newton Be! is an absorbing introduction to the legacy of Britain's greatest scientist as well as a fascinating study in the history of ideas.