Newton: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780199298037

Robert Lliffe
144 Pages
110 x 175 mm
Pub date
Jan 2007
Very Short Introductions


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  • A rich and up-to-date account of this intellectual giant, and of the forces which shaped his life and thought.
  • Explains and introduces Newton's scientific studies in fields ranging from physics, astronomy, and mathematics, to alchemy.
  • Provides a complete picture of Newton by examining his controversial theological beliefs and his politics.
  • Discusses Newton's legacy today - both in the scientific world and beyond.
  • Uses previously unpublished private writings and manuscript sources to present a pithy exploration of Newton's complex character.

This Very Short Introduction uses Newton's own unpublished writings to provide fascinating insight into the man who kept the Royal Society under his thumb, was Head of the Mint, and whose contributions to our understanding of the heavens and the earth are considered by many to be unparalleled. 

The author begins with the legends surrounding Newton before next exploring the forces that shaped his life, introducing, along the way, many of the key thinkers and politicians of the time. Although Newton's science was largely revered (his reputation reached near-immortal status with the publication of the Principia), theologically, his beliefs were very controversial. He was a fanatical Protestant, and claimed that tribes like the Goths, Vandals, and Huns had tried to save the planet from the corruption of the Catholics. He was also convinced that he was specially chosen by God to protect the original, pure form of Christianity, and viewed any criticisms directed at him as a form of persecution. 

Resisting the urge to show how Newton's views on alchemy, mathematics, physics, and religion complemented one another, the author instead emphasises that these were the very different obsessions of an extremely complex man whose beliefs at the time dominated England's political, religious, and intellectual landscape. 


1: A National Man
2: Playing philosophically
3: The Marvellous years
4: The censorious multitude
5: A true hermetic philosopher
6: One of God's choen few
7: The Divine Book
8: In the city
9: Lord and Master of all
10: Centaurs and other animals

About the author: 

Dr Robert Iliffe is currently Reader at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College. He is also editor of the journal History of Science, and Editorial Director of the Newton Project, an international undertaking which provides him with the unique access to Newton's original writings, many of which have not yet been made public. He has published a number of articles on early modern history and the history of science, and is completing a major book for Yale University Press on Newton's theology.

"Slim yet informative...The style is elegant and he steers through the shoals of Newton's difficult personality - he made enemies everywhere he went - and the more controversial aspects of his career - the alchemy and heresy - with an assured hand." - Joe Cushley, What's On In London

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