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THE NEWTON PAPERS: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts
Oxford University Press -- May 2014
* The book will include 30 photos/illustrations, which have been cleared for world use.
About the book: When Isaac Newton died in 1727, lacking a will indicating his wishes, he left behind a wealth of papers that, when examined, gave his followers and his family a deep sense of unease. Some of what they contained was wildly heretical and alchemically obsessed, hinting of a Newton altogether stranger and less palatable than the one enshrined in Westminster Abbey as the paragon of English rationality. These manuscripts had the potential to undermine not merely Newton’s reputation, but that of the scientific method he embodied. They were immediately suppressed as “unfit to be printed,” and, aside from brief, troubling glimpses spread across centuries, would remain hidden from sight for more than seven generations. In THE NEWTON PAPERS, Sarah Dry illuminates the tangled history of these private writings over the course of nearly 300 years, from the long span of Newton’s own life into the present day. The manuscripts, on subjects ranging from secret alchemical formulas to impassioned rejections of the Holy Trinity, would eventually come to light as they moved through the hands of relatives, collectors, and scholars. The story of their disappearance, dispersal, and rediscovery is populated by a diverse cast of characters who pursued and possessed them, from economist John Maynard Keynes to controversial Jewish Biblical scholar Abraham Yahuda. Dry’s captivating narrative moves between these varied personalities, depicting how, as they chased the image of Newton through the thickets of his various obsessions, these men became obsessed themselves with the allure of defining the “true” Newton. Ultimately, THE NEWTON PAPERS shows how Newton has been made and re-made throughout history by those seeking to reconcile the cosmic contradictions of an extraordinarily complex man.
About the author: Trained as an historian of science, with a PhD from the Department of History and Philosophy at Cambridge University, Sarah Dry wrote an award-winning biography of Marie Curie (Curie, Haus Publishing, 2003), held a post-doctoral fellowship at the London School of Economics received a Gates Cambridge Scholarship (2003-2006), and coedited (with Melissa Leach) Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice (Earthscan, 2010). In 1996, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in History and Literature of the United States. While at Harvard she won the won the Rona Jaffe prize for creative non-fiction.
Why I love this book: You may think you know Isaac Newton (the guy who discovered gravity after being hit on the head with an apple, right?), but this story of his private papers reveals a more complex, strange, and incredibly fascinating side of the genius of legend. It’s a lively detective story spanning centuries, and includes a cast of wonderful characters (like John Maynard Keynes, renowned economist, who secretly bought much of Newton’s alchemical and theological writing at bargain prices during a Sotheby’s sale as World War II was looming and wrote outspokenly on Newton’s role as the “last of the magicians,” and Francis Baily, a banker and obsessive compiler of astronomical charts, who uncovered unassailable evidence of Newton’s most vindictive acts). I took history of science classes in college, and this is NOT the Newton I learned about. This Newton is far more exciting! This is also not the Newton you know (or think you know), as the story of his lost papers, their twisting journey through history, and what they reveal about the world’s greatest scientist has never been told before. Absolutely mesmerizing, this is for fans of science, history, and truth-is-stranger-than-fiction narrative non-fiction.
Fun fact: Today, Newton’s papers are being transcribed and digitized for online viewing, and can be accessed by readers.
Foreign sales for the author’s previous book, Curie: Japan (Seidosha), Korea (Siaa Publishing), Spain (Editiones Tutor S.A)
Praise for the author’s previous book, Curie:
“Concise and engaging, this amply illustrated history of Madame Curie, the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, makes an excellent introduction to the feminist icon and scientific pioneer….a wonderful introduction to a fascinating and inspiring career.” – Publishers Weekly
“Highly recommended.”– American Library Association
Voted Outstanding Academic Title 2003, Choice
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