Book Report on Isaac Newton

This essay has a total of 2198 words and 9 pages.


Isaac Newton
Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), mathematician and physicist, one of the foremost scientific
intellects of all time. Born at Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, where he
attended school, he entered Cambridge University in 1661; he was elected a Fellow of
Trinity College in 1667, and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1669. He remained at the
university, lecturing in most years, until 1696. Of these Cambridge years, in which Newton
was at the height of his creative power, he singled out 1665-1666 (spent largely in
Lincolnshire because of plague in Cambridge) as "the prime of my age for invention".
During two to three years of intense mental effort he prepared Philosophiae Naturalis
Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) commonly known as
the Principia, although this was not published until 1687.

As a firm opponent of the attempt by King James II to make the universities into Catholic
institutions, Newton was elected Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge to
the Convention Parliament of 1689, and sat again in 1701-1702. Meanwhile, in 1696 he had
moved to London as Warden of the Royal Mint. He became Master of the Mint in 1699, an
office he retained to his death. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in
1671, and in 1703 he became President, being annually re-elected for the rest of his life.
His major work, Opticks, appeared the next year; he was knighted in Cambridge in 1705.

As Newtonian science became increasingly accepted on the Continent, and especially after a
general peace was restored in 1714, following the War of the Spanish Succession, Newton
became the most highly esteemed natural philosopher in Europe. His last decades were
passed in revising his major works, polishing his studies of ancient history, and
defending himself against critics, as well as carrying out his official duties. Newton was
modest, diffident, and a man of simple tastes. He was angered by criticism or opposition,
and harboured resentment; he was harsh towards enemies but generous to friends. In
government, and at the Royal Society, he proved an able administrator. He never married
and lived modestly, but was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey.

Newton has been regarded for almost 300 years as the founding examplar of modern physical
science, his achievements in experimental investigation being as innovative as those in
mathematical research. With equal, if not greater, energy and originality he also plunged
into chemistry, the early history of Western civilization, and theology; among his special
studies was an investigation of the form and dimensions, as described in the Bible, of
Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

In 1664, while still a student, Newton read recent work on optics and light by the English
physicists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke; he also studied both the mathematics and the
physics of the French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes. He investigated the
refraction of light by a glass prism; developing over a few years a series of increasingly
elaborate, refined, and exact experiments, Newton discovered measurable, mathematical
patterns in the phenomenon of colour. He found white light to be a mixture of infinitely
varied coloured rays (manifest in the rainbow and the spectrum), each ray definable by the
angle through which it is refracted on entering or leaving a given transparent medium. He
correlated this notion with his study of the interference colours of thin films (for
example, of oil on water, or soap bubbles), using a simple technique of extreme acuity to
measure the thickness of such films. He held that light consisted of streams of minute
particles. From his experiments he could infer the magnitudes of the transparent
"corpuscles" forming the surfaces of bodies, which, according to their dimensions, so
interacted with white light as to reflect, selectively, the different observed colours of
those surfaces.

The roots of these unconventional ideas were with Newton by about 1668; when first
expressed (tersely and partially) in public in 1672 and 1675, they provoked hostile
criticism, mainly because colours were thought to be modified forms of homogeneous white
light. Doubts, and Newton's rejoinders, were printed in the learned journals. Notably, the
scepticism of Christiaan Huygens and the failure of the French physicist Edme Mariotte to
duplicate Newton's refraction experiments in 1681 set scientists on the Continent against
him for a generation. The publication of Opticks, largely written by 1692, was delayed by
Newton until the critics were dead. The book was still imperfect: the colours of
diffraction defeated Newton. Nevertheless, Opticks established itself, from about 1715, as
a model of the interweaving of theory with quantitative experimentation.

In mathematics too, early brilliance appeared in Newton's student notes. He may have
learnt geometry at school, though he always spoke of himself as self-taught; certainly he
advanced through studying the writings of his compatriots William Oughtred and John
Wallis, and of Descartes and the Dutch school. Newton made contributions to all branches
of mathematics then studied, but is especially famous for his solutions to the
contemporary problems in analytical geometry of drawing tangents to curves
(differentiation) and defining areas bounded by curves (integration). Not only did Newton
discover that these problems were inverse to each other, but he discovered general methods
of resolving problems of curvature, embraced in his "method of fluxions" and "inverse
method of fluxions", respectively equivalent to Leibniz's later differential and integral
calculus. Newton used the term "fluxion" (from Latin meaning "flow") because he imagined a
quantity "flowing" from one magnitude to another. Fluxions were expressed algebraically,
as Leibniz's differentials were, but Newton made extensive use also (especially in the
Principia) of analogous geometrical arguments. Late in life, Newton expressed regret for
the algebraic style of recent mathematical progress, preferring the geometrical method of
the Classical Greeks, which he regarded as clearer and more rigorous.

Newton's work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his correspondents
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