Thursday, August 17, 2017

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal'd by Mary Losure

When most of us think of Isaac Newton, we think about an apple falling on his head and his formulating his law of gravity and his three laws of motion. But there is much more to his life and Mary Losure has written an extraordinary, well-researched biography of Isaac Newton, beginning with his childhood and a mother who essentially abandoned him as a young boy. 

Born on December 25, 1642, Isaac, a loner, spent much of his childhood living in a third floor room in an apothecary’s home in an English village called Grantham. His father was dead, and his mother remarried a man who didn’t want Isaac in the house. Isaac lived in a world dominated by Puritans, but one that still held many mysteries about the physical world and he spent much of his time pondering these mysteries and studying alchemy in the hope of creating a philosopher’s stone, believing such a stone would hold the answers to all his questions. As a result of his studies, he had to teach himself advanced mathematics, inventing what he called fluxions, a precursor to modern calculus, along the way. 

Eventually, Isaac ended up at Trinity College Cambridge, where he remained as a mathematics professor after his student days ended. Still a loner, and still studying alchemy, he continued his experiments there, still hoping to create a philosopher’s stone.

Sent home from Cambridge because of the plague in 1665-66, Isaac spent much of his time wondering about the rules that govern the paths moving objects took through space, paths he could calculate using fluxions. But what, he wondered, kept the moon on its path? But it was much later that the answer finally came to him, and again, using fluxions, he developed his three laws of motion, laws that would later be called Newtonian Physics.

I majored in philosophy as an undergrad, and we studied some Newtonian ideas, and I never really thought Isaac Newton was a terribly interesting person. However, Losure has given his life an interesting spin by referring to him most of the time as a alchemist/magician and focusing on his alchemical interests and experiments, one of which resulted in fireworks that lit up the night sky when he was still a boy. Much of what Losure writes is speculation based on what facts there are about Isaac Newton’s life. She has done this in part by presenting a believable picture of the kind of world Isaac lived in, adding real depth to her biography of this illusive magician/scientist. In fact, Newton still has the distinction of being the world’s greatest alchemist, and one of the world’s greatest scientists.

Losure has included copious reproductions of illustrations throughout the book, some by Isaac, some from other sources, but all from the time of Isaac’s life. There is also a Bibliography and list of Works Consulted for the very curious who might want to explore Isaac Newton’s life and/or times in more depth.

I have to admit, I put off reading Isaac the Alchemist for a long time despite the many wonderful reviews I had read about it, and am I sorry I did. This is probably one of the most compelling, interesting and accessible scientist biographies I’ve ever read. I think that whether your young readers are interested in science or magic (alchemy), or just big Harry Potter fans who already know about the philosopher’s stone, they will find Isaac Newton’s life and times as fascinating as I did.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was sent to my by the publisher, Candlewick Press

1 comment:

  1. I always enjoy a good biography, and I’m sure I would enjoy this. I’ve already added it to my Christmas list – well it’s not that far away.
    Have a lovely week.


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