Seduced by Logic: Emilie Du Chatelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution

ISBN : 9780199931613

Robyn Arianrhod
352 Pages
162 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2012
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This is the fascinating story of two women who lives were guided by a passion for mathematics and an insatiable curiosity to know and understand the world around them - the beautiful, outrageous Emilie du Chatelet and the charmingly subversive Mary Somerville. Against great odds, Emilie and Mary taught themselves mathematics, and did it so well that they each became a world authority on Newtonian mathematical physics. Seduced by Logic begins with Emilie du Chatelet, an 18th-century French aristocrat, intellectual, and Voltaire's lover, whose true ambition was to be a mathematician. She strove not only to further Newton's ideas in France, but to prove that they had French connections, including to the work of Descartes, whom Newton had read. She translated the great Principia Mathematica into French, in what became the accepted French version of Newton's work, and was instrumental in bringing Newton's revolutionary opus to a Continental audience. A century later, in Scotland, Mary Somerville taught herself mathematics and rose from genteel poverty to become a figure of authority on Newtonian physics. Living in France, she became acquainted with the work of one of Newton's proteges, Pierre Simon Laplace, and translated his six-volume Celestial Mechanics into English. It remained the standard astronomy text for the next century, and was considered the most influential work since Principia. Connected by their love for mathematics, Emilie and Mary bring to life a period of remarkable political and scientific change. Combining biography and history of science, Robyn Arianrhod's book explores the roles both women played in bringing Newton's Principia to a wider audience, and reveals the intimate links between the unfolding Newtonian revolution and the origins of intellectual and political liberty.


1 Madame Newton du Chatelet
2 Creating the theory of gravity: the Newtonian controversy
3 Learning mathematics and fighting for freedom
4 Emilie and Voltaire's Academy of Free Thought
5 Testing Newton: the'New Argonauts'
6 The danger in Newton: life, love and politics
7 The nature of light: Emilie takes on Newton
8 Searching for 'energy': Emilie discovers Leibniz
9 Mathematics and free will
10 The re-emergence of Madame Newton du Chatelet
11 Love letters to Saint-Lambert
12 Mourning Emilie
13 Mary Fairfax Somerville
14 The long road to fame
15 Mechanism of the Heavens
16 Mary's second book: popular science in the nineteenth century
17 Finding light waves: the 'Newtonian Revolution' comes of age
18 Mary Somerville: a fortunate life
Epilogue: Declaring a point of view

About the author: 

Robyn Arianrhod is an Honorary Research Associate in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Monash University. She is the author of Einstein's Heroes.

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