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Isaac Newton

by Richard Samuel Westfall;

  Book : Biography

`Isaac Newton' by Richard S. Westfall    (2013-01-12)


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by wppalmer

Review of `Isaac Newton' by Richard S. Westfall published by Oxford University Press, Oxford in 2007in the `Very Interesting People' series.

Reviewer: Dr William P. Palmer

Richard S. Westfall is a scholar who has written extensively about the life and discoveries of Isaac Newton, for example `<a href="">Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge Paperback Library)] and `[[ASIN:0521477379 The Life of Isaac Newton (Canto original series)</a>(1994).

The life of Isaac Newton is amongst the most popular areas of scientific biography with each of the biographers concentrating on some particular aspect of Newton's life, such as `<a href="">Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist</a>: by Thomas Levenson (also reviewed by this reviewer) or fitting the information about Newton to some particular audience, for example a juvenile audience. There does now seem to be a growing interest in the history of science particularly in the lives of scientists, but simplified for a present day audience, such as this book or `<a href="">Newton for Beginners</a> by William Rankin or `<a href="">Coffee with Isaac Newton (Coffee with...Series)</a> by Michael White (both reviewed by this reviewer).

This work is part of the `Very Interesting People' series, which provides (according to the description on the cover) `authoritative bite-sized biographies of Britain's most fascinating historical figures'. The book lives up to this description and is an excellent introduction to Newton's life and work. Newton is not a person whose personality is easily understood by readers in our times but Westfall treads the fine line between excusing and explaining Newton's actions clearly, so that we can understand the man better. Newton quarreled with his contemporaries such as Robert Hooke, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and John Flamsteed mainly over priority of discovery and Westfall explains Newton's position extremely well in relation to each of these major disputes. The aspect of this short work that I found most interesting were the excellent brief explanations of the different editions of `The Principia' and `Optics' and the amazing amount of time and effort spent by Newton in these revisions. Newton's religious beliefs and his work on alchemy are also discussed, though the importance of these to Newton is difficult for present day readers to understand.

Overall this is an excellent introduction to Newton's life and work.


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