Sunday, June 3, 2012

BOOK: Isaac Newton by James Gleick

Isaac Newton by James Gleick, 258 pages

I knew a lot about Isaac Newton, but had never read it all in one place. I teach high school physics, so I thought I should read about him, so that I can feel more confident about any anecdotes I tell. Most of what I read was familiar, but I can speak better about his time at home from university during the plague (I may have thought he was in an institution, so there's one correction), his feud with Robert Hooke (a lot of it comes down to communicating through letters, kind of like email) and Leibniz, the German mathematician. Newton and Leibniz independently developed calculus, and then fought over the notation and who did what first. Egos!

It's a scientific biography, containing pages and pages of notes and references, but I still found it readable. Not engrossing, but readable. I referred to the notes at the back as I read, as some of them provided additional background to the story. I've got a better picture of Newton, the man and the scientist, and still am completely amazed at his insights and theories, many of which were not confirmed or built on for years. He had theories about everything! Gravity, light, forces, the idea of mass, just even how Newton defined terms that were in use, to get scientists speaking the same way.

True or False
- Newton sat under a tree and 'discovered' gravity when an apple fell on his head
- Newton worked as an alchemist under another name
- Newton was born in the same year that Galileo died
- Newton removed all references from the second edition of his book of Flamsteed, whose ideas about comets helped shape Newton's gravitation

 Every year I attempt this challenge, as I do like to read nonfiction science books. Count Newton as book number one.

Here's the link to this year's project: Science Book Challenge