The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World (P.S.) - Edward Dolnick While browsing the bookstore and idly picking up anything that looked vaguely interesting, I found The Clockwork Universe, which caught my admittedly somewhat eccentric, wide-ranging curiosity. Within a few hours I had a line of people calling dibs on reading it next (my mother, an ex, a geeky friend, a not-so-geeky drinking buddy) and only one dear friend (a pretentious robot on occasion) rolling his eyes before wandering off to the rest of my bookshelves. I found this burst of enthusiasm (or cheeky, unimpressed snark) amusing and dismissed it with a wave of my battered bookmark...

But then I started reading. The division of opinion proved to be a telltale sign of what I was getting into: the casual reader with loosely-rooted curiosity and a basic familiarity with the major players (Newton, Halley (you know, the comet), Galileo, Tycho, Descartes, Kepler) will enjoy this, while the mathematicians, physicists, and other scientifically-minded could easily and without regret give it a pass as child's play.

The Clockwork Universe is an enthralling, easy read (considering the subject matter) that is geared towards the casual reader, not the hardcore science buff, and Dolnick does a great job at weaving together a lot of different historical strands to create a solid presentation. He doesn't get bogged down in the technical aspects, remembering throughout that this is a group biography, a book of history and not science, and he keeps his focus. The main thread is, of course, the impact of Isaac Newton's work, but the author also presents a rather thorough picture of the entire Royal Society scene as it applies to "the birth of the modern world."

Other reviewers have gone into more detail regarding specifics of the science, the revelations, the colossal impact, etc. that the author explores, so I'll spare you my nonsensical ramblings on that. Instead, I'll end with this:

There are a couple chapters where Dolnick explains some basic concepts of calculus in order to help the reader understand later points in Newton's history. Between his down-to-earth, step-by-step explanations and the supporting graphs and pictorial depictions, I now understand more geometry and calculus than I ever did in high school. Not saying much, I know, but simply being aware of the importance of things like slopes, parabolas, and ellipses in regards to time, speed, velocity, and the like is more than all my struggles with inscrutable textbooks ever managed to do.

Well done, sir. Well done.