Colorful, entertainingly written and nicely paced—a fine introductory text on Newton and the scientific revolution.

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THE CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE

ISAAC NEWTON, THE ROYAL SOCIETY, AND THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN WORLD

A lively popular account of early science, culminating in Isaac Newton’s gravitational theory.

Dolnick (The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, 2008, etc.) puts Newton’s achievement in the context of his times. England was just recovering from its civil war, dealing with the plague and the Fire of London, a short generation after Galileo nearly came to grief for claiming that the Earth moves. The author begins by showing the vast differences between Newton’s times and the modern era. The nascent Royal Society was experimenting on powdered unicorn horn and magical remedies alongside the first serious research with microscopes and vacuum pumps—as much for entertainment as for the advancement of science. Having set the scene, Dolnick circles back through history to reflect on several areas of sciences, in particular physics, astronomy and mathematics, in which Newton’s genius produced its most fruitful results. Math in particular was waiting for someone to discover a way to deal with motion and change, a task that required learning how to manipulate (or at least neutralize) infinities. The problem had frustrated everyone from the Greeks to the Renaissance. Two men found the solution almost simultaneously: Newton and his great rival, Gottfried Leibniz. Newton, however, invented calculus completely on his own, isolated at his country home during the plague years of 1666–67, and kept the discovery to himself. Leibniz discovered it nearly a decade later—and then, bizarrely, he too sat on the knowledge for several years before publishing his findings. Eventually, Edmund Halley persuaded Newton to publish his theories of gravity and its mathematical underpinnings, creating a paradigm of scientific work that would last for nearly 200 years. Dolnick effectively paints the characters of the two great antagonists, as well as the men around them, the politics and personalities and the atmosphere in which they worked. While the discovery of calculus is a key theme of the book, no math beyond simple geometry is needed to follow it.

Colorful, entertainingly written and nicely paced—a fine introductory text on Newton and the scientific revolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-171951-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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