Edward Dolnick's books include The Forger's Spell, the New York Times bestselling account of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, and The Rescue Artist, winner of the Edgar Award in 2006 for best non-fiction.
His new book is The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World.
From Dolnick's Q & A with Alexandra Cheney at the Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal: Why are you fascinated with Isaac Newton?The Page 99 Test: The Clockwork Universe.
Newton is one of the great breakthroughs in intellectual history. It’s a story I’ve been fascinated with and it’s been told usually in a misleading way. The conventional way of telling this story is to say that the modern world was shaped by a handful of geniuses who are just like us except that they happen to have lived a long time ago and wear funny wigs. They were essentially time-travelers. I wanted to tell it in a different way. I think is that they were geniuses, but they weren’t like us at all. The world they lived in, what they took for granted, what they believed in: the reason that they were doing science is all completely foreign and strange to us. That’s what I was asking.
How was their world so different from ours?
Well, one of the main things the book is about is the world in the 1600s; it was falling apart. This is a time of rampant diseases that no one understands where you wake up healthy and you drop dead that evening. Whole families are wiped out. It’s filthy, it’s dangerous, it’s noisy. The people that my book is about look out at that world of chaos and they say, “I see a world of perfect order.” How they could look at that mayhem and see order is...[read on]