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Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton

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This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.


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This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.

30 review for Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton

  1. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    This is the most comprehensive book on any topic I have read in a long time. I wanted to know about Newton and boy do I ever now! The problem is that it is so extensive - exhaustive really. While the book does a great job detailing Sir Isaac Newton's life, the level of detail is beyond what most readers would care for. In addition to detailing his accomplishments, setbacks, breakdowns and personality, Richard S. Westfall has gone to great lengths to talk about things like his fincances. For This is the most comprehensive book on any topic I have read in a long time. I wanted to know about Newton and boy do I ever now! The problem is that it is so extensive - exhaustive really. While the book does a great job detailing Sir Isaac Newton's life, the level of detail is beyond what most readers would care for. In addition to detailing his accomplishments, setbacks, breakdowns and personality, Richard S. Westfall has gone to great lengths to talk about things like his fincances. For example, early in the book, in an attempt to illustrate that Newton's family was well off, the author spends a few pages detailing the incomes and holdings of many other people in the country at the time. This level of detail may be welcomed by some readers, especially when devoted to such central matters as Newton's accomplishments in math and science. For most readers however, this level of detail is unecessary and unwelcome. I found myself skipping large protions of the book either because I didn't care (finances) or didn't know enough to understand it (the large portions of the book detailing his mathematical accomplishments). There is another version of the book which is probably ideal for those of us who don't care about all of that extra stuff. The Life of Isaac Newton though it has a different title, is an abridged version of Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton and I kind of wish I had read that instead. My final rating of three stars reflects my enjoyment of reading this book, not it's quality as a scholarly text. It is a fantastic resource on Newton and for those especially well versed in physics and math, it is probably a must read. For the rest of us, my recommendation is to try The Life of Isaac Newton instead.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tereneh

    As a fashion designer who needs a calculator to complete even the most basic calculations and as a mediocre at best science student (okay I was horrible). The motivation to read Never at Rest, comes from my absolute admiration of Newton as a scientist and my interest to learn more about how genius works. As with most lives how much can we really know about another person. I know more about Newton, much more but not all of it is welcome news. I was saddened to learn that during Newton's As a fashion designer who needs a calculator to complete even the most basic calculations and as a mediocre at best science student (okay I was horrible). The motivation to read Never at Rest, comes from my absolute admiration of Newton as a scientist and my interest to learn more about how genius works. As with most lives how much can we really know about another person. I know more about Newton, much more but not all of it is welcome news. I was saddened to learn that during Newton's administration as president the first person to be denied election since the founding of the Royal Society , was a "Black Native of Jamaica" named Mr. Williams. Other revelations include a dismantling of the modern reverent mythology of institutions such as the Royal Society and universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. The reality is much messier and this book puts them into a clear historic, political, social and cultural light. As Mr Westfall explains their impact on Newton's career. The twists and turns of his life and the dramas that ensued and in many cases he inflamed makes him all the more human. And in some ways that makes him both more interesting and in some ways less likable. But In the end my respect for Newton as a scientist and one of the most important geniuses to ever live remains.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Jablokov

    The one biography you should read if you are really interested in the life and career of Isaac Newton, which is much longer and weirder than you might think, with much the latter part spent pursuing and punishing counterfeiters, which seems to have some psychological resonance. If you are only casually interested, and want a breezy overview, this is definitely not it. Something like the Gleick might be better, though still not super short. You'll learn about Newton's background, his schooling, The one biography you should read if you are really interested in the life and career of Isaac Newton, which is much longer and weirder than you might think, with much the latter part spent pursuing and punishing counterfeiters, which seems to have some psychological resonance. If you are only casually interested, and want a breezy overview, this is definitely not it. Something like the Gleick might be better, though still not super short. You'll learn about Newton's background, his schooling, his researches, his relationships, and his career in great detail. I was never bored, and actually have this book on my list to reread, because of its calm reliability and willingness to take its time, without padding or wandering off the topic, and its deep dive into the scientific culture of the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century that so thoroughly transformed our intellectual world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Masha

    -> 1000 pages. -> Written in 1981. Still interested. Me: almost 26 and has 4 useless diplomas yolo

  5. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    This extensive biography goes into more depth than most of us care for, but it is through. The evidences are described as is their provenance. I skipped over many of the details as I read. I didnt feel a need to know every twist and turn of the genesis of an idea. His earlier life was with few friends. His middle life with little desire to associate with others; rather he worked with ideas. After he left Cambridge for London, I might say he became a political creature; turning on perceived This extensive biography goes into more depth than most of us care for, but it is through. The evidences are described as is their provenance. I skipped over many of the details as I read. I didn’t feel a need to know every twist and turn of the genesis of an idea. His earlier life was with few friends. His middle life with little desire to associate with others; rather he worked with ideas. After he left Cambridge for London, I might say he became a political creature; turning on perceived enemies even though they might have been associates that he worked with. His capacity for spite was as great as his reputation. But then, perhaps that is true of most of us. Most striking to me was that he was deeply religious but thoroughly hid his religious views because they revealed the corruption of the church from it’s original foundation. Richard S Westfall has written half a dozen books with Newton in the title, and several others that look like the same time period, so Newton is probably included inside some of those books also. “As we shall see, Newton was a tortured man, an extremely neurotic personality who teetered always, at least through middle age, on the verge of breakdown.” (Page 53) “He was different from other boys ... As they came to recognize his intellectual superiority, the boys in the school apparently hated him.” (Page 58) “In roughly a year, without benefit of instruction, he mastered the entire achievement of seventeenth-century analysis and began to break new ground.” (Page 100) “Thus he computed sines to fifteen places and found devices by which he could compute roots and the value of pi to fifteen places or to fifty or five hundred if he wished.” (Page 112) October 1666 “As it happened only one other mathematician in Europe, Isaac Barlow even knew that Newton existed, and it is unlikely that in 1666 Barlow had any inkling of his accomplishment. The fact that he was unknown does not alter the other fact that the young man not yet 24, without benefit of formal instruction, had become the leading mathematician of Europe.“ Hebrews 1:8-9 Newton inserted the comment next to the words thy God: “therefore the father is God of the son [when the son is considered] as God.” (Page 311) “The conviction begin to possess him that a massive fraud, which began in the fourth and fifth centuries, had perverted the legacy of the early church. Central to the fraud were the Scriptures, which Newton begin to believe had been corrupted to support trinitarianism.“ (Page 313) “The corruption of Scripture came relatively late. The earlier corruption of doctrine, which called for the corruption of scripture to support it, occurred in the fourth century, when the triumph of Athanasius over Arius imposed a false doctrine of the Trinity on Christianity.“ (Page 314) “ There is no book in all the Scriptures so much recommended and guarded by Providence as this [the book of Revelation].“ (Page 319) “More significant was the implicit de emphasis of the role of Christ, a step which came readily enough to an Arian.” (Page 355) (Chapter: Years of Silence) “[John] Locke later [said] that he knew few who were Newton’s equal in knowledge of the Bible.” (Page 489) “... two letters addressed to Locke ... [on] corruptions of Scripture ... were the prime trinitarian passages in the Bible, 1 John 5:7, and 1 Timothy 3:16. Newton also composed a third letter about some twenty-six additional passages, all lending support to trinitarianism, that were corruptions too;” (Page 489-490) “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comments, could only proceed from the council and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being… This being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as lord over off; and on account of his dominion he is want to be called Lord God, call, παντοκρατρωρ or universal ruler for God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. (Page 748) “The true manhood of Christ was important to Newton, who believed that trinitarianism effectively denied his manhood and with it the reality of his suffering on the cross. However, ‘he was not an ordinary man but incarnate by the almighty power of God & born of a Virgin without any other father than God himself.’” (Page 824)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    An absolutely wonderful book. This book provides a comprehensive overview of Newton's life, and more importantly, his achievements. Often when titans of science or mathematics are given the biography treatment the book will go heavy on the interpersonal drama and light on the content of the achievements themselves. That is not the case here. A fascinating exploration of Newton's discoveries are given, in clear and delightful detail. I found the book to be gripping and extremely fun.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric Willeforde

    Comprehensive, enthralling (even the parts about his alchemical career and his time at the Mint), superb on his mathematical achievements, one of the best accounts of the writing of the Principia I've ever read. Wish Westfall wasn't so harsh on Newton at times (beyond the way Newton treated Hooke and Flamsteed), but his account is deeply humane and compassionate, and Newton wasn't the nicest guy in history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ozella

    Excellent biography of Newton. Very detailed and well researched. Westfall has a great grasp of Newton's reasoning and scientific ideas. You can read this book as a biography and a clear presentation of Newton's scientific work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    An incredibly detailed biography of not only Newton, but many of those who passed through his life who influenced him, and whom he influenced.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bowles

    A. Synopsis: Holding Newton to a caliber reached by few other men Westfall indicates that his subject was one of the tiny handful of supreme geniuses...not reducible to the criteria by which we comprehend our fellow beings. Westfall examines all aspects of Newtons life from science, alchemy, theology, heading of the Royal Society, and operations at the mint during recoinage. Set within this broad scope of his life are his greatest achievements in mathematics, dynamics, celestial mechanics, and A. Synopsis: Holding Newton to a caliber reached by few other men Westfall indicates that his subject was “one of the tiny handful of supreme geniuses...not reducible to the criteria by which we comprehend our fellow beings.” Westfall examines all aspects of Newton’s life from science, alchemy, theology, heading of the Royal Society, and operations at the mint during recoinage. Set within this broad scope of his life are his greatest achievements in mathematics, dynamics, celestial mechanics, and optics. Also, this book places Newton in his times (the work of Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbs, and Boyle) and shows how he transcended them. This was the first biography based extensively on manuscript sources. The title is drawn from the idea that Newton’s mind was never at rest. B. Outline 1. Childhood: His childhood was difficult. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was 2. He lived with his grandmother who he cared little about. As a boy he built models of windmills, and a paper lantern which he could fold into his pocket (and also flew as a kite). School was mostly Latin and Greek with no mathematics. 2. Trinity College, Cambridge: He moved from undergrad to fellow to Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. He had no duties to perform as fellow. This was a very low period in Cambridge’s intellectual history. Newton became a recluse, drew his checks, and studied mathematics. After becoming Lucasian Professor he was required to give 10 lectures a year. 3. Alchemy: This played a major part in his life though he never publicly disclosed his interest in finding a chemical basis to physical reality. Westfall speculates that Newton could have extended this idea to a new cosmology. (Crystals held by forces of “sociability”). Gold making never dominated his concern. The concept of Truth and a secret knowledge was what enticed him. Where did mechanical philosophy and alchemy collide? MP said matter was inert while alchemy said it was an active agent. Why did he study alchemy. It was a rebellion against the mechanical philosophy which yielded too easily to him. 4. Theology: These traditional beliefs played a well-defined part in his life. He Kept a theological notebook which extended to well over 700 pages. He had a religious crisis based on trinitarianism. He argued vehemently that the father, son and hold ghost should not be worshipped as three separate gods. Later in life he performed a tremendous amount of biblical research. 5. Principia (1684-87): This was his monumental achievement and the turning point of his life. For the first time he brought one area of his work to completion. The word centripetal (which Newton coined) is the word that best characterizes this work. It means seeking the center, as opposed to Huygen’s word centrifugal or fleeing the center. Thus the Principia is a study of centripetal forces as they determine orbital motion. 3 Laws of Motion. Inverse-square relation. These led him to conclude that the same force which caused the moon to revolve around the earth caused an apple to fall. 6. Revolution: This is what Westfall calls the response to the book. Newton became a member of Parliament. In 1693 he suffered a breakdown. This ended the creative phase of his life. The remaining 34 years were spent reworking earlier theories. 7. The Mint: In 1696 he takes a bureaucratic post to work on recoinage. He mastered the entire minting process. One job which he was not cut out for was the apprehension of counterfeiters. 8. President of the Royal Society: He was by no means a unanimous choice for this post. He returned an intellectual content back to the meetings. The Society also benefited by his administrative capabilities. In 1704 he publishes Optiks. It contained his theory of colors and the heterogeneity of light. He did not include anything controversial because he was still very insecure and afraid of criticism.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Noah

    Isaac Newton leaps off these pages as more than someone who merely sat in a room and doodled, giving birth to the Principia and Opticks from his forehead like Athena. We even get a glimpse at his first and only chaste puppy love. As a committed Arian, he risked everything by refusing to swear the required Trinitarian oath he would have to abjure. The book pulls no punches, however about the miasma of alchemy and pseudo-Rosicrucianism that fuelled his private life. It limns this guy as like some Isaac Newton leaps off these pages as more than someone who merely sat in a room and doodled, giving birth to the Principia and Opticks from his forehead like Athena. We even get a glimpse at his first and only chaste puppy love. As a committed Arian, he risked everything by refusing to swear the required Trinitarian oath he would have to abjure. The book pulls no punches, however about the miasma of alchemy and pseudo-Rosicrucianism that fuelled his private life. It limns this guy as like some mashup of Otto Weininger and the main character from The Name of the Rose. His adventures into chemistry rapidly take on the the quality of Don Quijote tilting at windmills. The later chapters are enjoyable, with his tenure as Master of the Mint (see, scientists didn't just start selling out in the eighties), his supervision of hanging of convicted forgers, his Liberace-esque tastes in interior decorating (Edgar Allen Poe clearly took notes of his crimson fetish) and his interest in the longitude problem.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lowe

    I always wanted to read the most definitive biography available on Sir Isaac Newton. Well, I got my wish. This masterpiece by Richard S. Westfall is so detailed, so encompassing, so complete, that it was, in many ways, over the top. A bit esoteric in its mathematics and calculus, it just proved to me even more the depth of Newton's genius. I am very impressed that the author, unlike most biographers, is honest to the point of exposing Newton's numerous personality flaws, which were many. But he I always wanted to read the most definitive biography available on Sir Isaac Newton. Well, I got my wish. This masterpiece by Richard S. Westfall is so detailed, so encompassing, so complete, that it was, in many ways, over the top. A bit esoteric in its mathematics and calculus, it just proved to me even more the depth of Newton's genius. I am very impressed that the author, unlike most biographers, is honest to the point of exposing Newton's numerous personality flaws, which were many. But he had many positive attributes, and they were likewise well documented. Newton was a genius among geniuses, but not in all he did. A very well-balanced and perfectly honest biography, a very rare thing indeed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    The very first biography I ever read. It was in High School, and though I was forced to read a biography, I was able to make my own choice. I was interested in science and math and this book jumped out at me. It was ponderous at times because of my lack of enthusiasm for reality and history, but it quickly gripped me. I was hooked and have read many science and math biographies since.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    An exhaustive biography that offers little to anyone except those writing a report on the man. Includes everything you never really cared about, like how much he spent on various living supplies in 1666, and often repeats various things that it assumes you already know beforehand without even introducing it. There's a whole lot of tedium here, and not much that is actually interesting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rod Haper

    Excellent biography of Newton. Very detailed and well researched. Westfall has a great grasp of Newton's reasoning and scientific ideas. You can read this book as a biography and a clear presentation of Newton's scientific work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Curtismchale

    Some good quotes and an interesting look at the life and focus of a great scientist. Lots of math I didn't understand and skipped and so many letters between people that I didn't find interesting burin sure someone fascinated with Newton would love every minute detail provided.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    If you ever want to get into the minutiae of Isaac Newton's life, this is the book. At 800 pages, it's thorough and enlightening. I never knew about Newton's appointment to the head of the Mint, or really anything about his later life. I skipped much of that (it is, well, rather tedious).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gaurav Arora

    it is the best biography i have ever read ............. Its awesome!!!!!!!!!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matt Brooks

    Pretty cool so far - the author begins with an account of the evolution of scientific thought and the key people who spurred it on - Aristotle, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo etc.

  20. 4 out of 5

    MykeWeber

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

  24. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  25. 5 out of 5

    Fred

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tanvi Ghatwal

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert.Dirkzoutlook.Com

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nawel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

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