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Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientistby Thomas Levenson
"There are any number of settings where we might imagine Isaac Newton holding forth in February of 1699 — under his famed apple tree, say, or before an august assembly of the Royal Society. Draining drams with counterfeiters in a lowlife London pub called the Dogg, though, seems less likely. But that's just what Britain's greatest scientist was doing — and in Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist, Thomas Levenson has done an admirable job of explaining how that odd scene came about." Paul Collins, The Oregonian (read the entire Oregonian review)
Synopses & Reviews
In 1695, Isaac Newton — already renowned as the greatest mind of his age — made a surprising career change. He left quiet Cambridge, where he had lived for thirty years and made his earth-shattering discoveries, and moved to London to take up the post of Warden of His Majestys Mint.
Newton was preceded to the city by a genius of another kind, the budding criminal William Chaloner. Thanks to his preternatural skills as a counterfeiter, Chaloner was rapidly rising in London's highly competitive underworld, at a time when organized law enforcement was all but unknown and money in the modern sense was just coming into being. Then he crossed paths with the formidable new warden. In the courts and streets of London — and amid the tremors of a world being transformed by the ideas Newton himself had set in motion — the two played out an epic game of cat and mouse.
Sir Isaac Newton — bookish, asexual, harboring an uncool obsession with alchemy — doesn't sound much like Humphrey Bogart. But after his famous apple-beaning inspired a mechanical portrait of our universe that would stand unchallenged for 200 years, the godfather of the Enlightenment used his plush sinecure at the Royal Mint to wage a war on counterfeiters that demanded very real gumshoeing. Thomas... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Levenson's "Newton and the Counterfeiter" presents the physicist's vendetta against "coiner" William Chaloner as a battle of wits between a genius polymath trying to reform the British Empire's monetary policy and a dastardly native of London's criminal underworld circa 1695. A pop-science writer who has made Einstein, acoustics and meteorology intelligible to the right-brained, Levenson transforms inflation and metallurgy into a suspenseful detective story bolstered by an eloquent summary of Newtonian physics and stomach-turning descriptions of prison life in the Tower of London. Shortly after abandoning his Cambridge library for the filthy metropolis, Levenson writes, Newton "managed incredibly swiftly to master every dirty job required of the seventeenth-century version of a big-city cop." Like "Heavenly Intrigue," the 2004 book which posits that great astronomer Johannes Kepler murdered greater astronomer Tycho Brahe, "Newton and the Counterfeiter" humanizes a legend, transforming him into a Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of his own private Moriarity. Reviewed by Justin Moyer, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
A fascinating slice of true-crime history that unfolds in 1695, when law enforcement was unheard of and modern money was little more than a concept
When renowned scientist Isaac Newton took up the post of Warden of His Majestys Mint in London, another kind of genius—a preternaturally gifted counterfeiter named William Chaloner—had already taken up residence in the city, rising quickly in an unruly, competitive underworld. In the courts and streets of London, and amid the tremors of a world being transformed by ideas Newton himself had set in motion, Chaloner crosses paths with the formidable new warden. An epic game of cat and mouse ensues in Newton and the Counterfeiter, revealing for the first time that Newton was not only one of the greatest minds of his age, but also a remarkably intrepid investigator.
About the Author
Thomas Levenson is a professor of science writing at MIT and the author of three previous books: Einstein in Berlin, Measure for Measure, and Ice Time. He is also the producer of ten documentaries for which he has won numerous awards.
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