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A Miracle Made Lyrical: Jim Gleick’s Isaac Newton

     Alexander Pope’s couplet gives me goosebumps: “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said: Let Newton be! and all was light.”  James Gleick’s lean, lovely biography is a modern account of Newton’s multiple breakthroughs–and then some.  Almost everything we know about apples and moons in motion and at rest, about time, space, gravity, inertia, differential and integral calculus, occurred to Isaac Newton in his early twenties, working in isolation through the London plague years of 1665 and 1666.  Gleick‘s great gift is making this not merely a lucid history of mathematical ideas but also a meditation on the utterly marvelous, a virtually unexplainable genius.  In conversation Jim Gleick underlines the great paradox of Newton. Both medieval and modern, the father of the Enlightenment and modern rationalism was also a determined alchemist and an opinionated Unitarian Christian.  Gleick’s book rises to the challenge of that same paradox: it is wise science written with humility and awe.  Listen in.

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