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Isaac Newton. Adventurer in thought. Preface by David Knight. Repr. (English) Zbl 0976.01014

Cambridge Science Biographies Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. xvi, 468 p. (2000).
Rupert Hall’s masterly Newton biography was first published in 1992 by Blackwell in Oxford, then re-issued by Cambridge University Press in 1996. The present reprint (as paperback) contains one correction (on p. 74) and an acknowledgment on p. xvi; otherwise it is identical with the 1996 hardcover edition. In the General Editor’s Preface, David Knight, after having sketched the traditional image of Newton as a solitary genius, had written: “The great virtue of this biography is that we feel that Newton is understandable. We see extraordinary ability and application in mathematics and experiment, we see Newton’s mind gradually gaining upon the dark, but also making mistakes and sometimes from our perspective retreating from a better to a worse understanding. And yet Hall does not forget that Newton was a man of his time, involved in the political and religious issues of his day, making friends and allies and falling out with them.” Hall himself, in his Foreword, had described his position as author with the words: “I believe it imprudent to try to interpret Newton’s life and writings in terms of single factors, whether these be his infantile experiences, his reading of the strange books of the alchemists, his faith in God or even his confidence in number and measure. There is no single key to understanding Newton \(\ldots\).” In view of the rich results of Newton scholarship of the past decades, with which the author is intimately familiar (having contributed to them no small portion), this statement characterizes well his critical and sober approach. In the end, he is more sympathetic to the object of his biography than some other writers of Newton biographies who expounded one-sided hypotheses about motives and driving forces in Newton’s life and works.
Hall in addition succeeds in transmitting to the reader a feeling for the difficulty the historian constantly faces when he tries to understand and interpret a great mind at work. When he presents in lucid style both, the life of the man and the development of his creative thoughts, he does not hesitate, if necessary, to emphasize his personal view in order to distinguish it from different opinions to be found in the literature. Nor is he afraid to correct his own view of thirty years ago (pp. 199/200).
Fortunately, in this reprint the appendices, explanatory notes and references (more than 50 pages), the bibliography and the index as well as the figures have all been retained (and also a number of minor misprints).

MSC:

01A70 Biographies, obituaries, personalia, bibliographies
01A45 History of mathematics in the 17th century

Biographic References:

Newton, Isaac
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