Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career by Patricia Fara - review by John Gribbin

John Gribbin

Cosmic Thoughts, Worldly Desires

Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career

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Oxford University Press 304pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

Life after Gravity is structured around the idea that although Isaac Newton is famous as a scientist and mathematician, ‘biographers often glide over’ his later life in London, where he was a prominent member of fashionable society. That is true up to a point, but even some of the biographies cited in this book give ample space to this second phase of his life. Nevertheless, it provides an excuse for an account of life in early 18th-century London that is interesting in its own right.

There is nothing new here but, by weaving together old threads, Patricia Fara has produced an enjoyable book that provides an easy introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the story. By dividing it into thematic sections on topics such as family, lifestyle, the Royal Society and the Royal Mint, she has made it easy to dip into, at the minor cost of sometimes obscuring the chronology. The obvious missing ingredient, though it is covered briefly, is a detailed discussion of the probable connection between Newton’s dramatic career change and his mental breakdown in the early 1690s, prior to his move to London, which may have been linked to his unrequited love for another man.

A major advantage of the thematic structure is that it provides an opportunity early on to tell the story of Newton’s niece and housekeeper, ‘pretty Kitty’ Barton. She was a favourite of London society and almost certainly the mistress of Charles Montagu, first Earl of Halifax, who left her a

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