Isaac Newton



Sir Isaac Newton has a penchant for popping up in literature. Take Greg Keyes' Age of Unreason historical fantasy series for example, which starts with Newton's Cannon. Or Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first book of Baroque Cycle. Even in popular fiction like The Da Vinci Code.

It soon becomes hard to separate fact from fiction. Was Newton an alchemist? [Yes] A member of The Priory of Sion? [No] A little bit mad? [Probably. And not helped by his experiments with mercury].

Needing a fix in reality, I picked up James Gleick's Isaac Newton. It is a wonderfully written account of Newton's life and accomplishments.

The picture is of a complex character. Extremely private and absorbed in his research into any and all questions relating to understanding the system of the world. He tended to keep his ideas from the public to avoid controversy, yet when his views are debated he is perhaps as bad as the worst for letting his ego get out of hand. He is famous for his feuds with the likes of Robert Hooke for primacy in optical theory, and Leibniz over the invention of calculus (Newton and Leibniz are generally agreed to have developed calculus independently, but that didn't prevent them both from scrapping over the issue to no end).

Newton's Wikipedia entry provides a good overview of the amazing range of his work. To understand more, James Gleick's book is an excellent place to start.