19 Sep 2018

A Right Pain in the Isaac

Florian Freistetter. Isaac Newton, the Asshole Who Reinvented the Universe. Prometheus Books (4 Sept. 2018)
Isaac Newton may have been the most important scientist in history, but he was a very difficult man. Put more bluntly, he was an asshole, an SOB, or whatever epithet best describes an abrasive egomaniac. In this colorful profile of the great man--warts and all--astronomer Florian Freistetter shows why this damning assessment is inescapable. Newton's hatred of fellow scientist Robert Hooke knew no bounds and he was strident in expressing it. He stole the work of colleague John Flamsteed, ruining his career without a second thought. He carried on a venomous battle with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the invention of calculus, vilifying him anonymously while the German scientist was alive and continuing the attacks after he died.

All evidence indicates that Newton was conniving, sneaky, resentful, secretive, and antisocial. Compounding the mystery of his strange character is that he was also a religious fanatic, a mystery-monger who spent years studying the Bible and predicted the apocalypse. While documenting all of these unusual traits, the author makes a convincing case that Newton would have never revolutionized physics if he hadn't been just such an obnoxious person. This is a fascinating character study of an astounding genius and--if truth be told--an almighty asshole as well.