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Isaac Newton

Janet Pascal

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Newton went to Cambridge U, which didn't have great teachers, but it did have a great library. Read how Aristotle's ideas overturned (Earth not center of Universe, heavier objects don't fall faster than light ones) and realised that just bc an idea seems reasonable, it may not be right unless backed up by data.

Shortly after he graduated in 1665, plague broke out in England, so he went home to family farm for 18 months. He spent time thinking about new maths. Wanted to calculate, for example, the path a cannonball wd take through the air from when it was fired to when it fell. He called his equations a metho of fluxion. Today it's called calculus. It's the basis of all modern physics.

He was also interested in light. Aristotle taught that white light was the 'pure' colour, and all other colours based on adding to that. Newton tested that by putting light through a prism. It was already known that this wd cause light to break up into a spectrum. Newton reasoned that, if Aristotle was right, putting that through a second prism should make it break up even more. But instead, he found the second prism brought everything back to a pure white again. This told Newton that Aristotle was wrong - white light was the sum of all the other colours.

And that enabled him to explain rainbows for the first time - simply sunlight with raindrops acting as prisms.

His time at farm he also began the work that wd lead to the laws of motionand theory of gravity. (The story about the falling apple may even be true.)

Back at Cambridge, Newton needed a better telescope, so he invented the first reflecting telescope, which was 10 times better than existing, double lens versions. This got him membership of the Royal Society (motto: Nullius in verba - "take no-one's word for it") This led him to try to become more of an Enlightenment scholar, sharing his ideas rather than preferring to work by himself, as he had done.

But he clashed with Robert Hooke, and the two became life-long enemies.

One day in 1684 three Royal Soc members - Hooke, Edmund Halley and Christopher Wren - discussed how to explain the orbits of planets in mathematical terms. Hooke claimed he'd already worked it out, but when after several months, he failed to produce a proof, Halley went to Newton and asked him to do it.

Newton wrote a nine page essay to do that, but then got really interested, and went on to write his five hundred page masterpiece Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, better known simply as Principia. With this book he laid the foundations of modern physics.

Newton's book made him so famous that he was elected to Parliament. But the only time he ever spoke was to ask for a window to be closed.

1696 he was appointed head of Royal Mint. England had a problem with people clipping coins, so Great Recoinage where all coins recalled, melted down and reissued with milled rims. Newton stayed head of Mint for next 30 years.

1703 Hooke, and pres of Royal Soc both died. Newton elected pres, and published hs book on optics.

Battle with German mathematician, Gottfried Leibniz over who had invented calculus. Newton won the battle (exulting that he had 'broken Leibniz's heart') but lost the war, in that both men recognized as having come to idea independantly. Newton's version was a shorthand that made it easier for himself to use; Leibniz's was a form that could easily be used by others. And it was Leibniz who gave it the name calculus, which is the trm that survives.

He was knighted in 1705, and when he died, in 1727, he was buried in Westminster Abbey - the first scientist to be so honoured.

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