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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sir Isaac Newton -- Father of Physics or Alchemist?

Disclosure: Candlewick Press gave me a copy of this book free of charge to review. All opinions in my review are my own and I did not receive any other compensation. As in all my reviews I am providing links for your ease, but receive no compensation.

Now I am sure you have heard of Sir Isaac Newton. He is considered the father of physics. You have probably heard the story of the apple falling from the tree and he discovers gravity. Well today's book tells the true story or at least as true as we currently know. The book is Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal'd by Mary Losure. 


This book explores Isaac's life from a young age. Isaac had a very lonely childhood in his family's home called Woolsthorpe Manor. His father had died before he was born. His mother who never seemed to love Isaac much remarried when he was three, but his stepfather insisted in the marriage agreement that Isaac never live with them. His mother left him behind as she went to live with her new husband and start a new family. His grandmother came to live with Isaac and run the farm. She was busy working so Isaac was left to entertain himself. Many drawings were found on the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor. People wondered if they were drawn by Isaac. Isaac left behind a list of the sins he committed. One including threatening to burn his mother and her husband and their house. It really showed the anger and hurt he experienced. At age twelve he was sent to a school in a different town. He was a boarder in an apothecary's house where he was allowed to use the apothecary's workshop. It was here that he really began to explore the art of alchemy. In his lifetime there was a fine line between alchemy and science, and of course alchemy and magic. He searched his whole life for the creation of the philosopher's stone and the power it would give. 

Isaac observed the world and was curious. He questioned and explored for the answers. He recorded his observations and findings in notebooks as well as margins of books. He was a loner all his life. After being ridiculed for his discoveries at a young age he became more withdrawn and was less apt to share his work. He struggled to get a spot at Trinity College, but eventually he became a professor there. He also was eventually invited to be a member of the Royal Society. Some of his amazing discoveries were made when the plague hit London and he returned to Woolsthorpe to avoid it. He spent a year at home with lots of time on his hands. He spent it wondering and exploring. It was during this year that he outlines a new mathematics that he called fluxions but we know as calculus. He used his secret new math to make calculations on things he was wondering about and exploring. He did not share this math with others though. In fact if it were not for Edmond Halley (of whom the comet is named after). Edmond Halley went to Trinity College to find Isaac Newton to ask him about how the planets moved around the sun. This was the great mystery of the time and what the scientists were researching, but no one had been able to find a formula that worked. Isaac was able to tell Halley that planets moved in ellipses around the sun, but could not find his calculations to prove it at the time. However several months later Isaac sent his work to Halley and the Royal Society and Halley eagerly read it and realized its importance. Many wanted to see it but there was just the one copy. Halley asked for Isaac's permission to publish the paper. Isaac denied him permission. Instead he went back to all of his observations from his time of wondering and three years later published in Latin a book called Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. This book included Newton's Laws of Motion. 

This book shares some of the notes and observations that Isaac Newton wrote. It also quotes his writing. At times the Old English is a bit difficult to read and understand, but Losure does a good job of helping kids to understand some of the no longer used terms. What I found most fascinating is how his study of alchemy helped him bring about his amazing contributions to the math and science still studied today. If he had not been interested in the magic of alchemy he may not have made the observations and discoveries he did. In fact some have said he was not the first physicist but rather the last magician. 

I love how this book shares the life of Isaac Newton. It was not a pretty life but the man made such important discoveries for our society and world. I did read this book to Hazel. She was a bit young for it  (it is recommended for ages 10 and up) and had trouble understanding parts of it. We would stop and discuss things she did not understand. She however kept asking me to read it to her. She was very interested in Isaac's story. I think it is that he made the observations when he was young and it was this time mixed with the alchemy that helped him realize what he really had discovered. I hope you will check out this fun exploration of such an important man in our modern math and science.