In this selection of Hourly History books, Isaac Newton: A Life From Beginning to End, readers may discover some new facts about Newton’s thoughts and discoveries. Some readers might be inspired to dispute facts given. That’s good. It means they are inspired to read and do Google searches. I find these books valuable for my son. As a high school student, he has heard of the subject characters and events of most books in the series but may be unaware of ongoing academic controversies. These short, interesting, survey reads help to sponsor an interest in reading as the reader feels a sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing yet another book on the list.
And they are good for adults who think they know everything. When many people, old and young alike, want to find information about a character or event they focus on a target. A strength of the Hourly History publications is the way connections are examined between characters or situations in their societies and cultures. For example, in this book Chapter One is The English Civil War. The book looks at English history and the tumults engulfing the monarchy and religion from 1603 to 1643, the year of Newton’s birth. By the time Newton was twenty-two, Newton had lived through the beheading of a King, confusion among competing factions of the monarchy, a Parliamentary government, and the rise of a new King during the Restoration in 1661. In this time frame, approximately four years later, Newton had discovered the general binomial theorem which led to calculus. Students may never forgive him for creating calculus but it’s nice to know who to blame.
Then there is the part about gravity. The account in this book notes that the apple didn’t necessarily fall on his head but did cause Isaac to ask why things fell perpendicular to the earth rather than fly off to the left, right, or even up. Later investigations when he was a lecturer in optics would lead to experiments with prisms, the construction of telescopes, and the publication of a controversial paper, Optiks.
It seems Newton had difficulty accepting any criticism. His way of dealing with it was either to withdraw or ignore it. This began in his teenage year in his relations with his parents. In his religious studies, Newton wrote about a 13th sin he was susceptible to. When 19 years old he confessed guilt to “Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them.” (loc 76). Later in university life colleagues learned to avoid him in social situations as he either ignored them or scowled when they approached. After the publication of Optiks, Newton entered into a lifetime of disagreements with contemporaries due to his refusal to accept criticism.
While Optiks was an early famous publication, it was with Principia, investigations into the laws of motion, that cemented his fame but may have led to his later breakdowns which some would label insanity. His mental states were reactions to criticism which he simply would not tolerate. The descriptions of these conflicts with other thinkers of his age is also a strength of this series, the authors examine Newton’s working and social environment (to include his critics and alternative theories) rather than only the man and his life.
Later in life, preceding an almost emeritus status as a parliamentarian, Newton dabbled in alchemy. This was an unknown fact to me. Alchemists were grouped with magicians and charlatans both with people of that time and me. New information. This book ends with an account of a dispute over who invented calculus. A Royal Society commission had been formed in 1703 to make a decision and report on who invented calculus. Newton was president of the Royal Society. The report was written by … (you get the idea).
This is a fun and painless way to investigate interesting historical events and allow parents to know at least as much as their children about important stuff. Parents can talk to children about what they are studying. Maybe the sons and daughters won’t burn the parents’ house down. If you go to the site’s Facebook page (or use Google) you will be directed to a registration page where you can get about two of these publications for free each week. They are also available for “free” through the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.