Brief Lives: Newton (Peter Ackroyd)

Newton (Brief Lives)
Peter Ackroyd
I'm not sure why I enjoy Peter Ackroyd's writing as much as I do. It's clearly not polished prose; in fact, his literary style tends towards the brutal at times. Part of it, I suspect, is the fact that he can give even non-fiction a narrative drive and a clarity of idea that makes reading it a compelling experience. And just as important is his strong streak of the contrarian, a desire to challenge the pre-conceived and ill-thought.

Take this brief, but enjoyable, biography of Newton, the founding father of modern scientific thought. Ackroyd plunges the depths of his genius and his obsession, and sheds new light on familiar stories, as one would expect. But he doesn't shy away from the areas of  his life that cleave less to the modern idea of what a scientist should be: his deep, abiding and ever-so-slightly heretical Christian faith and his life-long flirtations with alchemy.

He also doesn't play down the difficult, arrogant and insecure nature of the man, and delves into the conflicts with others and periods of seclusion that defined his life. What makes this book, like earlier efforts in the series, so compelling is that they take the greatness of the subject's work for granted, and delve as best as one can, into the reality of the man behind the work. And that can't help but be fascinating.

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