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the Complete Review
the complete review - history of science

The Newtonian Moment

Mordechai Feingold

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Newtonian Moment

Title: The Newtonian Moment
Author: Mordechai Feingold
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 199 pages
Availability: The Newtonian Moment - US
The Newtonian Moment - UK
The Newtonian Moment - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : splendidly illustrated, useful overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist . 5-6/2005 Larry Stewart
The LA Times . 9/1/2005 Theodore K. Rabb
The NY Rev. of Books . 2/12/2004 Anthony Grafton

  From the Reviews:
  • "Feingold's work is full of insight into how Newton made the Enlightenment and what use the Enlightenment made of him. Two reproductions of the broadsheets of Newton's disciple William Whiston are hopelessly small, but apart from that, this work is brilliantly illustrated." - Larry Stewart, American Scientist

  • "(A) lavish, lively book." - Anthony Grafton, The New York Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Newtonian Moment is essentially an exhibit-catalogue, to go with the exhibit Science and the Making of Modern Culture shown at the New York Public Library 8 October 2004 - 5 February 2005, curated by Feingold.
       There's barely a page without at least one (colour) photograph, mainly of portraits of the many people who are mentioned, as well as illustrations from and of the many texts mentioned, and the book is worthwhile just for these. The portraits do little more than give a human face to the many names that crop up, but many of the illustrations literally do support the text, showing experiments and interpretations and often giving insight into the understanding of Newton at those times.
       There's text, too -- a good amount of it. The large size of the book means that the text is presented in double-columns; that and the disruptive pictures (plastered all over the pages) make for a less than ideal reading experience, but it's still worth working through. The Newtonian Moment is both Newton-biography and then a record of the early reception of Newton's (scientific) ideas; focussed on the immediate reactions and influence, it does not, for example, try to trace the Newtonian influence as far as, for example, Patricia Fara does in her Newton: The Making of Genius.
       Feingold offers a fine, compact introduction to Newton's life and especially his rise to scientific greatness -- though there's a good deal more to say about it. The real value of the book, however, is in its focus on the reception of Newton's theories and ideas. Feingold constantly emphasises context, showing why acceptance (or even interest) was slower in some places, or why certain countries and scientists were more receptive to certain ideas. The conflict with Leibniz, the role of Voltaire, and other important influences are addressed: often one wishes for more, but at least Feingold points to what is most significant.
       Of interest is also Feingold's look at less familiar aspects -- such as the "campaign for the allegiance of women" among the competing scientific world-views of the day, a neat small introduction to some of the remarkable women of the 17th and 18th century.
       The Newtonian Moment is an introductory survey: just as the illustrations of individual pages from various 18th century texts makes one long to be able to see the rest of those texts, Feingold's descriptions leave one hungry to learn more. It is certainly more than adequate as a an exhibit-catalogue, but also feels a bit like merely the outline of the much larger book one would rather have.

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The Newtonian Moment: Reviews: Isaac Newton: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mordechai Feingold teaches at the California Institute of Technology.

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© 2005-2022 the complete review

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