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Last of the magicians

Every era views Isaac Newton through the prism of its own concerns. That's why we're obsessed with his alchemy

By Patricia Fara   October 2003

Book: Isaac Newton Author: James Gleick Price: (Fourth Estate, ?15)

“He of all people was no Newtonian,” declares James Gleick in the introduction to his new biography, Isaac Newton. Paradoxical but true. Sixty years ago, John Maynard Keynes scandalised the scientific establishment by announcing that Newton was not the world’s first great scientist but was “the last of the magicians.”

These days, Newton’s alternative interests have been made respectable. Scholars have overturned older prejudices by showing how Newton’s apparently arcane obsessions-alchemy, Solomon’s temple, early Christian heresies-were far from being eccentric sidetracks but fed directly into his cosmological theories. Now Gleick,…

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