The most recommended Isaac Newton books

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to Isaac Newton, and here are their favorite Isaac Newton books.
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Book cover of The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

Tamim Ansary Author Of The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

From my list on the human story as a single whole.

Who am I?

Tamim Ansary is the son of an Afghan father and an American mother.  As a writer, growing up in Afghanistan and growing old in America has drawn him to issues that arise from cultural confusion in zones where civilizations overlap. His books include histories and memoirs, which he considers two sides of the same coin: a memoir is history seen up close, history is memoir seen from a distance.  Much of his work explores how perspective shapes perceptions of reality—a central theme of his best-known book, Destiny Disrupted, A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.

Tamim's book list on the human story as a single whole

Tamim Ansary Why did Tamim love this book?

Yes, yes, history is an unbroken river of themes, but it’s also a chain of pivotal dramatic episodes. Dolnick gives us one such moment. In 17th century Europe, within two generations, a collection of brilliant oddballs invented science. They’re people, so they’re doing the sorts of things people do, elbowing and shoving one another to find the ultimate truth before the other guy. I appreciate that in the course of reading such a wonderfully enjoyable story, I somehow learn a great deal about the truth they were seeking, the underlying mathematical order of the universe in which they believed.

By Edward Dolnick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Clockwork Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Edward Dolnick’s smoothly written history of the scientific revolution tells the stories of the key players and events that transformed society.” — Charlotte Observer

From New York Times bestselling author Edward Dolnick, 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.

At a time when the world was falling apart— in an age of religious wars, plague, and the Great Fire of London—a group of men looked around them and saw a world of perfect order. Chaotic as it looked,…


Book cover of On the Shoulders of Giants: The Post-Italianate

Peter Macinnis Author Of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

From my list on history and science.

Who am I?

A lot of the books I write are about science or history, and Mr Darwin just happened to be about both: it was a history of science, as science was in 1859. People say the world changed after Darwin published, The Origin of Species in 1859, but Origin was a symptom not a cause. My book is a history of science that looks at how the world was changing (and shrinking) in the year 1859, as new specimens, new materials, new technologies, and new ideas came into play.

Peter's book list on history and science

Peter Macinnis Why did Peter love this book?

I have had my copy since about 1972, when I was a penurious post-grad, and it lacks an ISBN, but it is based on a famous phrase that may or may not have been written by Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, and it is an uproarious and undisciplined history of that phrase. Merton calls it a Shandean postscript, because there are parallels with the style of Tristram Shandy.

I am afraid (or so two of my more literate editors have assured me), Merton infected my own style to an extent, but you can just tell that he enjoyed telling a story, almost as though it came from Falstaff himself. Any would-be understander of science needs to read it, but if you cite it, don’t make the mistake of Charlesworth et al., who, in Life Among the Scientists,…

By Robert K. Merton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Shoulders of Giants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With playfulness and a large dose of wit, Robert Merton traces the origin of Newton's aphorism, "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Using as a model the discursive and digressive style of Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Merton presents a whimsical yet scholarly work which deals with the questions of creativity, tradition, plagiarism, the transmission of knowledge, and the concept of progress. "This book is the delightful apotheosis of donmanship: Merton parodies scholarliness while being faultlessly scholarly; he scourges pedantry while brandishing his own abstruse learning on every page. The most recondite and obscure…


Book cover of The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Georgia Irby Author Of Conceptions of the Watery World in Greco-Roman Antiquity

From my list on how to read maps.

Who am I?

I still remember the day I discovered the family atlas (I must have about five; it then lived in my room, and my dad was probably irked, but too kind and encouraging to show it). Since then, I have been mesmerized by maps. How lucky I am to turn an early passion into a focus of research and teaching (I am a Classicist and Historian of Ancient Science). My publications include studies of narrative maps in Greco-Roman literature (they too were mesmerized by maps). You can find maps in the most unexpected places!

Georgia's book list on how to read maps

Georgia Irby Why did Georgia love this book?

2500 years ago, Pytheas, a clever Greek explorer, figured out latitude.

While there has always been a concept of longitude, it proved impossible to pinpoint, until... Sobel and Andrewes engagingly unravel the cipher of longitude that was cracked by the plucky John Harrison (he created the right tool, a clock that kept accurate time at sea: why is this important? Read the book!).

Convinced that the solution could only be astronomical, the scientific community was not amused. It was a dramatic conflict between the skeptical Board of Longitude (probably also jealous) and the skilled workaday carpenter-turned-clockmaker whose solution to navigation’s oldest puzzle was banausic.

In the end, our hero, the underdog, prevails (even if it took 250 years for Harrison to receive the respect he so richly deserved and earned).

By Dava Sobel, William J.H. Andrewes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Illustrated Longitude as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Illustrated Longitude recounts in words and images the epic quest to solve the greatest scientific problem of the eighteenth and three prior centuries: determining how a captain could pinpoint his ship's location at sea. All too often throughout the ages of exploration, voyages ended in disaster when crew and cargo were either lost at sea or destroyed upon the rocks of an unexpected landfall. Thousands of lives and the fortunes of nations hung on a resolution to the longitude problem. To encourage a solution, governments established prizes for anyone whose method or device proved successful. The largest reward of…


Book cover of The Three Body Problem

Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez Author Of Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom

From my list on mathematical mysteries.

Who are we?

We are a mother and daughter team of mathematicians (respectively a researcher in mathematics and a math graduate who runs an educational company) and detective novel lovers (with Agatha Christie a firm favorite). We’re also both very passionate about the importance of a good foundational mathematics education for everyone.

Leila's book list on mathematical mysteries

Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez Why did Leila love this book?

The Three Body Problem is a real-life unsolved math problem concerning the motion of three bodies (think a star and two orbiting planets), all acting on each other by the pull of gravity. Given their positions and movements at times, what will happen in the future? Will they eventually fly away or fall into the star?  

The Three Body Problem is also a mathematical mystery by Catherine Shaw (a pen name – shhh), set in Cambridge in Victorian times, which contains three actual dead bodies, all of the mathematicians working on the eponymous problem. Another mathematician, who knew all three well, is accused of the murders. Luckily for him, his fiancée, though not a mathematician herself, is as much a truth-seeker as any, and her actions unravel the mystery while the reader gets a close look into the world of maths and the people who do it. Our amateur detective…

By Catherine Shaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Three Body Problem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cambridge, 1888, Miss Vanessa Duncan is recently arrived from the countryside to teach. But everything changes when Mr Akers, a Fellow f Mathematics, is found dead. When a second and then third mathematician are murdered, it becomes a race against time to solve the case.


Book cover of Newton: The Making of Genius

John Derbyshire Author Of Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

From my list on mathematical biographies.

Who am I?

Bertrand Russell wrote that: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” I agree. Math is, however, a human thing, all tangled up with the nature of human personality and the history of our civilizations. Well-written biographies of great mathematicians put that “stern perfection” in a proper human context.

John's book list on mathematical biographies

John Derbyshire Why did John love this book?

When I was asked to review this book, my first instinct was to decline. Newton (1642-1727) was a towering genius but a dull fellow, with no interest in other human beings. He often published anonymously for fear that, he explained: "Public esteem, were I able to acquire and maintain it … would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline." How can a biographer make such a person interesting?

The author dodges very nimbly around this problem, giving us an account, not so much of the man as of his reputation and influence. Perhaps this means that her book is not a true biography, but it is done with such skill and wit, I include it anyway.

By Patricia Fara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Newton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Isaac Newton has become an intellectual avatar for our modern age, the man who, as even children know, was inspired to codify nature's laws by watching an apple fall from a tree. Yet Newton devoted much of his energy to deciphering the mysteries of alchemy, theology, and ancient chronology. How did a man who was at first obscure to all but a few esoteric natural philosophers and Cambridge scholars, was preoccupied with investigations of millennial prophecies, and spent decades as Master of the London Mint become famous as the world's first great scientist? Patricia Fara demonstrates that Newton's reputation, surprisingly…


Book cover of Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything

Samuel Arbesman Author Of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

From my list on how science actually works.

Who am I?

I’m a Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startups at the frontiers of science and technology. I have a PhD in computational biology and focused my academic research on the nature of complex systems, but I soon became fascinated by the ways in which science grows and changes over time (itself a type of complex system!): what it is that scientists do, where scientific knowledge comes from, and even how the facts in our textbooks become out-of-date. As a result of this fascination, I ended up writing two books about scientific and technological change.

Samuel's book list on how science actually works

Samuel Arbesman Why did Samuel love this book?

Primarily a historical work, this book explores how curiosity went from a kind of strange and disreputable act to something that became celebrated and tamed as part of the scientific process. With a focus on the early days of modern science, it is filled with a huge number of delightful examples of what passed for curiosity in previous centuries.

By Philip Ball,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Curiosity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There was a time when curiosity was condemned. To be curious was to delve into matters that didn't concern you - after all, the original sin stemmed from a desire for forbidden knowledge. Through curiosity our innocence was lost.

Yet this hasn't deterred us. Today we spend vast sums trying to recreate the first instants of creation in particle accelerators, out of pure desire to know. There seems now to be no question too vast or too trivial to be ruled out of bounds: Why can fleas jump so high? What is gravity? What shape are clouds? Today curiosity is…


Book cover of How Physics Makes Us Free

John T. Maier Author Of Options and Agency

From my list on defending the reality of free will.

Who am I?

I'm a philosopher and psychotherapist, with a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton. From the beginning of my work in philosophy, I have been interested in the nature of agency: what is it to be an agent, and how is agency even possible in the first place? These questions naturally drew me to the metaphysics of free will, as well as related topics in the logic and semantics of agentive modality (that is, the kind of possibility and necessity that is characteristic of agents). Much of my recent work has been on more clinical issues, especially on understanding addiction. I continue to be fascinated by fundamental topics in metaphysics, and especially the question of free will.

John's book list on defending the reality of free will

John T. Maier Why did John love this book?

Ismael is one of our leading philosophers of physics, and of fundamental questions more generally.

This book is a comprehensive exploration of the intersection of physics and free will, with the surprising moral signaled by her title. Properly understood, contemporary physics, even if it is deterministic, does not threaten free will. On the contrary, it helps to explain how free beings like us are possible in the first place.

By J.T. Ismael,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How Physics Makes Us Free as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1687 Isaac Newton ushered in a new scientific era in which laws of nature could be used to predict the movements of matter with almost perfect precision. Newton's physics also posed a profound challenge to our self-understanding, however, for the very same laws that keep airplanes in the air and rivers flowing downhill tell us that it is in principle possible to predict what each of us will do every second of our entire lives, given the early conditions of the
universe.

Can it really be that even while you toss and turn late at night in the throes…


Book cover of Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Who am I?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

Don’t let the length (over 900 pages) of this biography put you off. Instead, immerse yourself in the slow and powerful current of author Richard Westfall’s superbly written and richly detailed portrait of the skills, achievements, and obsessions of the singular genius that was Isaac Newton. Westfall explains in a masterful way Newton’s mathematics, his physics, his heretical theology, his fixation with alchemy, his activities running the Royal Mint, and his disputes with other scientists. These features, and Westfall’s evocative description of the intellectual and social milieu of Newton’s 17th-century world, make Never at Rest a compelling read.   

By Richard S. Westfall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never at Rest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.


Book cover of Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

Patricia Fara Author Of Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career

From my list on enlightenment science.

Who am I?

I’m an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and I’ve written several popular books as well as featuring in TV/radio programmes such as In Our Time and Start the Week (BBC). I love the challenge of explaining to general audiences why the history of science is such an exciting and important subject – far more difficult than writing an academic paper. I believe that studying the past is crucial for understanding how we’ve reached the present – and the whole point of doing that is to improve the future. My underlying preoccupations involve exploring how and why western science has developed over the last few centuries to become the dominant (and male-dominated) culture throughout the world.

Patricia's book list on enlightenment science

Patricia Fara Why did Patricia love this book?

James Delbourgo’s book shows that history matters. As the founder of London’s British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane has always played an important part in displaying our national heritage, and Delbourgo’s book explores the wondrousness of the artifacts he amassed from all over the world. But it also reveals how his wealth, fame, and success depended on the international trade in enslaved peoples during the eighteenth century. Sloane’s statue has not been destroyed, but it no longer stands prominently in the Museum’s entrance hall. Like Delbourgo, I believe we need to examine and confront the deeds of previous generations, and his book appeared while I was grappling with similar dilemmas about Sloane’s predecessor as President of the Royal Society, Sir Isaac Newton.

By James Delbourgo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Collecting the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Leo Gershoy Award
Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
A Times Book of the Week
A Guardian Book of the Week

"A wonderfully intelligent book."
-Linda Colley

"A superb biography-humane, judicious and as passionately curious as Sloane himself."
-Times Literary Supplement

When the British Museum opened its doors in 1759, it was the first free national public museum in the world. Collecting the World tells the story of the eccentric collector whose thirst for universal knowledge brought it into being.

A man of insatiable curiosity and wide-ranging interests, Hans Sloane assembled a collection of antiquities, oddities, and…


Book cover of Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West

Richard G. Lipsey Author Of Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth

From my list on how technologies have transformed our societies.

Who am I?

In spite of many setbacks, living standards have trended upwards over the last 10,000 years. One of my main interests as an economist has been to understand the sources of this trend and its broad effects. The key driving force is new technologies. We are better off than our Victorian ancestors, not because we have more of what they had but because we have new things, such as airplanes and indoor plumbing. However, these new technologies have also brought some unfortunate side effects. We need to understand that dealing with these successfully depends, not on returning to the use of previous technologies, but on developing newer technologies such as wind and solar power.

Richard's book list on how technologies have transformed our societies

Richard G. Lipsey Why did Richard love this book?

Using the modern view of science, many economic historians have sought to diminish the effects of science on the technologies in the 18th and 19th centuries. This wonderful book by a sociologist documents how science, as it was then practiced, pervaded the whole structure of British society, from preachers teaching that Newton had revealed the architecture that God had imposed during creation, to a journal teaching Newtonian science to women. As Jacob puts it: “The role of science…was not that of general laws leading to the development of specific applications. Instead it…[provided] the theoretical mechanics and the practical mathematics that facilitated technological change. Brought together by a shared technical vocabulary of Newtonian origin, engineers and entrepreneurs…negotiated…the mechanization of workshops or the improvement of canals, mines, and harbours.

By Margaret C. Jacob,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book seeks to explain the historical process by which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries scientific knowledge became an integral part of the culture of Europe and how this in turn led to the Industrial Revolution. Comparative in structure, Jacob explains why England was so much more successful at this transition than its continental counterparts.