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

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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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