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The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the…

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, & the Birth of… (2011)

by Edward Dolnick

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4661722,239 (3.93)35
  1. 20
    Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris (rakerman)
    rakerman: Many of the same scientists show up in Coming of Age and The Clockwork Universe, with different emphasis and focus. The books complement one another, for example there are more details about Kepler's work in The Clockwork Universe.
  2. 10
    The Universe Within by Neil Turok (rakerman)
    rakerman: The Clockwork Universe is to some extent a history of science ending with Newton as the key figure; The Universe Within also provides a history of science but starts with Newton and then moves on to quantum physicists.

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» See also 35 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I think this book is well-written, somewhat well-researched, and has strong, and at times, highly-entertaining delivery. That said, I have two main qualms with the book:

1) Chronology. The book starts with an elaborate and deliberate framing of the 1660s, primarily in London. While this sets up for a discussion of the Royal Society (Newton et co.) at that time, around halfway through, the book takes us to the 1400s to Copernicus to set up for the astronomy section. In this way, the book's contents tends to suffer from a disruptive bifurcation which harms the narrative. Once this section is reached, the motion of the book stalls, leaving a confused reader.

2) Topicality. The book seems to suffer from a topicality problem, and (as alluded to above) tends to stray from any overall thesis or motif. It could be using a post-Heideggerian "impressionism" with its arguments (see Rudolf Mrázek's "Engineers of Happy Land" for an example of this technique), there is no motive or reasoning for the use of this style, nor does Dolnick seem to implement this consciously. Thus, the message of the book suffers.

That given, it sure was an interesting and fun read. Though, I may remark, that it may not be the most cliche of academic writings. Nerdy? Yes. Worthy of a doctoral thesis? No. ( )
  MarchingBandMan | May 31, 2017 |
This is an excellent and easily readable tale of the beginnings of scientific thinking in the 17th Century. It brings the contrast between the old worldview, in which everything is in some way a deliberate act of God, with one in which there are comprehensible and, more importantly, understandable rules and regularities underlying the natural world. I recommend it. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
The scientific revolution. Easy listening for nerds. Recommended. ( )
  ohernaes | Dec 29, 2014 |
Excellent popular history of how during the 1600s math became the new tool for explaining the natural world. In fact geometry had been around since the Greeks, but that is only for objects at rest, not in motion, thus had limited application. Isaac Newton invented Calculus which explained objects in motion (geometry on the move) and opened up many fields of scientific inquiry (indeed science itself). The central tenant of the book is that 17th century thinkers came to believe God made the world based on math. This is an unintuitive historical shift in our view of the cosmos, and goes a long way to explain why the West had such a head start over other parts of the world. Why did this happen? Math was an arcane and rarely studied field at the time, not even required in school. Well Dolnik doesn't really explain other than "special pleading": it was mathematicians who decided the world was based on math, and thus God's language, since they themselves were math experts. Not a satisfactory answer and a major fault in the book to not explore this in more detail. Where the book shines is to make math seem new and exciting. I'd never had an interest in Calculus but am now curious to learn more, since I now understand who invented it and for what. Overall an interesting book with lots to offer for a general introduction to some of the great minds and ideas of the 17th century. ( )
  Stbalbach | May 12, 2014 |
Science > Europe > History
Religion and science > History
  xkyzero | Jan 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
London before the mid-1600s was a general calamity. The streets were full of thieves, murderers and human waste. Death was everywhere: doctors were hapless, adults lived to about age 30, children died like flies. In 1665, plague moved into the city, killing sometimes 6,000 people a week. In 1666, an unstoppable fire burned the city to the ground; the bells of St. Paul’s melted. Londoners thought that the terrible voice of God was “roaring in the City,” one witness wrote, and they would do best to accept the horror, calculate their sins, pray for guidance and await retribution.

In the midst of it all, a group of men whose names we still learn in school formed the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. They thought that God, while an unforgiving judge, was also a mathematician. As such, he had organized the universe according to discernible, mathematical law, which, if they tried, they could figure out. They called themselves “natural philosophers,” and their motto was “Nullius in verba”: roughly, take no one’s word for anything. You have an idea? Demonstrate it, do an experiment, prove it. The ideas behind the Royal Society would flower into the Enlightenment, the political, cultural, scientific and educational revolution that gave rise to the modern West.

This little history begins Edward Dolnick’s “Clockwork Universe,” so the reader might think the book is about the Royal Society and its effects. But the Royal Society is dispatched in the first third of the book, and thereafter, the subject is how the attempt to find the mathematics governing the universe played out in the life of Isaac Newton. . . .
added by PLReader | editNY Times, ANN FINKBEINER (Mar 25, 2011)
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The universe is but a watch on a larger scale.
-- Bernard de Fontenelle, 1686
For Lynn
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A stranger to the city who happened to see the parade of eager, chattering men disappearing into Thomas Gresham's mansion might have found himself at a loss.
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Nel 1665 Londra viene colpita da una pestilenza che si porta via un quinto dei suoi abitanti. L'anno successivo un incendio devastante fa quasi altrettante vittime. Proprio in quei due anni Isaac Newton, un giovane scontroso, magro e allampanato, inventa il calcolo infinitesimale e calcola la forza di gravità della Luna, prima pedina della legge di gravitazione universale. Negli stessi, pochi anni, altri uomini, riuniti attorno alla neonata Royal Society, fanno scoperte che rivoluzioneranno per sempre le nostre vite. "L'universo meccanico" è la storia vera di quel pugno di uomini geniali, bizzarri e tormentati, che ha inventato il mondo moderno. Per metà narrazione e per metà divulgazione scientifica, è un ritratto di gruppo di alcune delle più grandi menti che siano mai vissute, alle prese con alcuni dei misteri più profondi della natura. Il mondo nel quale erano immersi Newton, Leibniz, Galileo e gli altri era fatto di incendi, guerre, malattie e sporcizia; ogni avversità era interpretata come un atto di punizione divina e la superstizione regnava sovrana. Eppure queste menti sognatrici e brillanti in pochi decenni hanno descritto un universo ordinato come un orologio, regolato da leggi matematiche precise, nel quale pianeti e atomi si muovevano seguendo percorsi prevedibili e meccanici. Sorprendentemente, avevano ragione.
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A"New York Times"-bestselling author presents the true story of a pivotal moment in modern history when a group of strange, tormented geniuses--Isaac Newton chief among them--invented science and remade our understanding of the world.

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