The title of this review comes from a quote by John Maynard Keynes Newton was not the first of the age of reason He was the last of the magicians I like this quote because Newton devoted much of his time to alchemy and mysticism, and was not a scientist in the way we think of today, although he helped establish science as we know it today The reason he was such an important figure in science is that he was a great mathematician and the first important mathematical physicist It was he who placed ideas swirling in the sciences on the mathematical foundation we use today.
But, once having done so, he wanted full credit for the ideas, even if others had inklings of them before him His most famous feud was with Leibniz, who co invented calculus, one of the key tools Newton used to revolutionize how we view and understand physics Newton misused his position with the Royal Society to fake a report claiming that Leibniz plagiarized him, which is all but certainly not true.
He feuded with others, as well, notably Robert Hooke Hooke began to understand that gravity was universal, that the gravitational force was centripetal, and also to have a basic sense of inertia and momentum But he lacked the mathematical wherewithal to codify his insights into the physics we understand today Newton provided that insight Then, having done so, Newton couldn t share the credit He worked hard to bury Hooke s important contributions A book sympathetic to Hooke and his contemporaries isOut of the Shadow of a Giant.
The author of this book, while not excusing Newton s behavior, leans in the direction of arguing that Newton deserves most of the credit because his mathematical approach was the key to modern science, and that his success was a piece with his noxious personality I am less sympathetic to that viewpoint, feeling that it was ideas bubbling from the natural scientists of the time combined with Newton s mathematical prowess that came together to reinvent the universe, to steal from the subtitle of the book.
This book is amusing and a quick read, but not the whole story.
To provide context for this review, I have Ph.
D in physics This quote appears on page 137 of the current book 137 is notorious in physics as the approximate inverse of the fine structure constant Something for the mystic to ponder.