Review of The Clockwork Universe

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern WorldThe Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a slightly tricky book to rate. I gave it four stars out of five on the merit of the book itself, though I would recommend it mostly to people who are interested in the history of science but not heavily read in that area already. This book is not one that sets a standard for scholarship, but is a well-written introduction to a worthy topic.

Isaac Newton is the primary focus of this book, though his rival Leibniz also comes in for some discussion. And Newton is valuable because he represents a transition to the modern world. Because of his invention of calculus and his laws of motion, he is regarded as one of the first modern scientists, and deservedly so. But he was equally one of the lats great medieval thinkers, drenched in religiosity, and a devoted investigator in alchemy. So he was born into a medieval world, where the great fire of London and the Plague were seen as God’s judgement on a sinful people. But when he died it was a modern world, and he did a lot to make it so. so the sub-title is really quite accurate.

One of the things that should get you thinking as you read between the lines, particularly in the first part of the book, is how people reacted to the Plague. With no understanding of disease, and an assumption that such things were the just visitations of a wrathful God, they had no alternative but to die in huge numbers. Now we have science and medicine that can protest us, but those very accomplishments that define the modern world are under attack right now by religious fundamentalists who would drag us back to those days. We need to be constantly vigilant to stop them.

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