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216 × 138 mm
272 pages
43 illustrations, 12 in colour
05 Feb 2018
Renaissance Lives

Isaac Newton and Natural Philosophy Niccolò Guicciardini

Isaac Newton is generally regarded as one of the greatest scientists in history, yet the spectrum of his interests was much broader than that of a contemporary scientist. He was deeply involved in alchemical, religious and biblical studies, and in the later part of his life he played a prominent role in British politics, economics and the promotion of scientific research. Newton’s pivotal work Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica, which sets out his laws of universal gravitation and motion, is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science. Niccolò Guicciardini’s enlightening biography offers an accessible introduction to Newton’s celebrated work in mathematics, optics and astronomy and to how Newton viewed these scientific fields in relation to his quest for the deepest secrets of the universe, matter theory and religion. Guicciardini sets Newton the natural philosopher in the troubled context of the religious and political debates that took place during Newton’s life, which spanned from the years of the Civil War to the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian succession. Taking into account the latest Newtonian scholarship, this fast-paced biography will appeal to all those with an interest in this iconic figure and the great scientific revolution of the early modern period.

EXTRACT: to read and download an extract from the book's introduction please click here.

‘This pithy, nuanced biography of Isaac Newton examines the whole man, as a scientist born into the tumultuous seventeenth century and as an icon (and puzzle) through time. Science historian Niccolò Guicciardini reveals how Newton’s theories first received a mixed reception, then became a kind of “cultural fashion” after his death. In the 1930s, his private archive of recondite and theological investigations muddied the picture further. Now, as Guicciardini shows, we are able to see Newton as a brilliant problem-solver eager to crack complexities – in mathematics, metaphysics and alchemy.’

‘A very fine and very accessible account of one of science’s outstanding figures . . . Newton’s life is unfolded within a rich historical context, including much more than just the optical and gravitational science which immortalised his name . . . Professor Guicciardini  is very well placed to deal with the technical aspects of Newton’s achievement, especially in optics, mechanics, and gravitation theory, all of which he treats in considerable detail, and with great lucidity.’ – The Observatory magazine

‘This book is a very readable discussion of Newton’s researches into mathematics, optics, dynamics and astronomy and how he set them into the context of speculations regarding the nature of matter itself and religion; but it is his work in physics, astronomy and mathematics that has stood the test of time . . . Guicciardini is a Newtonian scholar with an international reputation. He draws on the work of many eminent academics, as well as his own detailed knowledge and understanding of both Newton’s published work and his unpublished manuscripts and private correspondence. The text is enlivened with illustrations (many in colour) either drawn directly from Newton’s works to aid the following of a written argument, or to complement the text in some other way . . . This book may well provide you with fresh ideas and insights on how to present classical mechanics.’ – Rick Marshall, Physics Education

‘Niccolò Guicciardini’s Isaac Newton and Natural Philosophy is a biography of the famed philosopher and natural scientist. While there are many excellent biographies of Newton, Guicciardini’s work is novel not only for its style of presentation but also for its form. The book is beautifully written, and the author uses a minimum of notes such that the reader is able to glide easily through the text without having to stop to verify and check sources and references. A scholarly work, the biography is also laden with over forty images that showcase Newton at the various stages of his life, his manuscripts, or relevant historical images. Many are in colour, and this adds to the beauty of the volume. This volume could easily serve as a reference guide for general information about Newton’s life and work as well as a beautiful art book for display in one’s home or study.’ – Renaissance and Reformation

‘What is there to be gained from another biographical treatment of Isaac Newton? This book is for those who are interested not so much in the biographical but the intellectual details. What specific puzzles did Newton face, how did he address them, and how did they shape his overall scientific oeuvre? Guicciardini presents in a short volume what until now had been treated mainly by specialists in the history of mathematics or physics . . . Guicciardini’s book is a model for how to approach the work of an innovator like Newton not only historically but also philosophically.’ – Robert P. Crease, History of Physics Newsletter

‘In this elegant and perceptive biography, one of the leading scholars of Isaac Newton’s career provides a clear and often startling summary of the life of one of the greatest early modern scholars and philosophers of nature. With considerable intellectual balance and literary vigour, this book explores the full range of Newton's achievements, both in the mathematics and natural philosophy which laid the foundations of his cosmology and mechanics, and his strenuously reasoned and absorbing analysis of scripture and prophecy, alchemy and apocalypse. Guicciardini is especially keen to put Newton back into the world where he laboured and flourished, a milieu he shows was very different from that of current sciences or of modern religious thought to which Newton's enterprise nevertheless made the most decisive contributions. The book offers a fascinating introduction to the aims and achievements of a towering figure of European intellectual culture.’ – Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge

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Niccolò Guicciardini teaches history of science at the University of Bergamo, Italy. He has devoted many years to studying Newton’s mathematical thought and its reception, and is the author of Reading the Principia: The Debate on Newton’s Mathematical Methods for Natural Philosophy from 1687 to 1736 (1999) and Isaac Newton on Mathematical Certainty and Method (2009). He is 2018 recipient of the Francis Bacon Award by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Introduction: Images of Newton
1 From Woolsthorpe to Cambridge, 1642–1665
2 Early Achievements, 1665–1668
3 A Young Professor and His Audience
4 A Maturing Scholar, 1675–1684
5 Natural Philosopher, 1684–1695
6 The Last Years, 1696–1727
photo acknowledgements