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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > December 2016 > Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Genius scientist. Wily politician. Master of the Mint. Jheni Osman reveals the colourful life of the cantankerous man who invented calculus and the laws of motion – and the real story behind that apple…
THUNDER STEALER Despite his achievements, Newton made many enemies, even attempting to wipe their discoveries from the records
GETTY X1, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X1

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This became one of the most well-known quotes from the world of science, uttered over 300 years ago by the great mathematician and physicist. His supporters would say it showed him to be a humble man, attributing his great successes to his predecessors and contemporaries. But those that knew the true nature of the power-hungry scientist thought otherwise, viewing the quote as a dig at one of his greatest rivals – physicist Robert Hooke – who was shorter than Newton and suffered from a stoop.

MANOR BORN Newton’s childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire
ALAMY X1, AKG X1, GETTY X3

BORN FIGHTING

Cantankerous, ambitious, and prone to intense outbursts, he entered the world with his fists at the ready. Born prematurely on Christmas morning in 1642 in a sleepy hamlet in Lincolnshire, he was a tiny baby, who avoided the dreaded plague that was ravaging the country at the time. His father died three months after he was born, and he later felt spurned by his family, after he was packed off to live with his grandmother while his mother married a reverend from a nearby village – a man he came to loathe.

“Battling through his teenage years, Newton’s salvation was his studies”

Battling through his teenage years, Newton’s salvation was his studies. While his mother hoped he’d take over the family farm, his genius in the classroom didn’t go unnoticed and a life of academia beckoned. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Newton found a new father figure. Isaac Barrow was the first professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. He immediately recognised the talent of his new prodigy and tasked him with solving one of the big unsolved problems of the day – calculus, the study of how things change. Without calculus, we wouldn’t have the tools to calculate everything from economic change right through to climate change.

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December 2016
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