Isaac Newton Critical Context - Essay

Myra Stillman, Beulah Tannenbaum

Critical Context

Newton explained that, if he had seen far, then it was because he stood on the shoulders of others. Tannenbaum and Stillman do well at placing Newton in a context of the work of Descartes, Hooke, Leibniz, and others, but they are equally instructive in their exposition of the bitter feuds that scientific discovery can create. They portray science as a joint enterprise of many minds over a long period, an enterprise often punctuated by the very human foibles of its practitioners.

The story of the sickly baby who grows up to write the world’s greatest scientific paper has great inspirational value. The besting of the school bully, the dreamy indifference to farm work, and the forgetfulness about meals and routine all make Newton a believable human being. The book’s summaries of technical matters are couched in language that is accessible to students who are not mathematically inclined, but the authors are still clear in their exposition of his principles. Newton’s rather eccentric theological preoccupations are alluded to but are appropriately kept in the background in the story of a “pioneer of space mathematics.” Tannenbaum and Stillman have provided a well-written and informative book for school libraries.