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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 47, November 22, 2009, Article 8

MORE ON NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER

Michael E. Marotta writes:

Levenson Newton and the Counterfeiter When I proposed a review of Newton and the Counterfeiter, Wayne Homren asked how this book compares to Craig, meaning Newton at the Mint by Sir John Craig (Cambridge, 1946). At that moment, all I had to rely on was my own feature article from the November 2001 Numismatist. Since then, I did some work.

Craig also wrote two other monographs. "Isaac Newton-Crime Investigator," Nature, 182 (19 July 1958) 149-152 tells the tale. Levenson adds nothing and takes much. "Sir Isaac Newton and the Currency," by G. Findlay Shirras and J. H. Craig, The Economic Journal Vol 55. No. 218/219 (June-Sept 145) 217-241 provides some information about the general problems of counterfeit coins in circulation, but does not go into the story of Newton versus Chaloner.

There is another dimension, not discussed lately, though addressed by Sir John Craig: Chaloner did not get a fair trial. Craig maintains that Chaloner was factually guilty, but deprived of due process. In fact, all we have to go on is the trial record, the prosecutor's (Newton's) records, and an anonymous biography of Chaloner written after his conviction and execution. Under English law (including the American system), the jury is the trier of fact. If the trial was unjust, then it is an epistemological contradiction -- begging the question and asserting the hypothesis -- to claim that the accused was "really" guilty.

The bottom line is that Thomas Levenson is a videographer of science. For the numismatist, he presents no new facts. The story he tells is lively. He puts you on the streets. If you do not know the story or want something more lively than Sir John Craig's account, then this book is worthwhile.

To read the Michael's earlier review, see: BOOK REVIEW: NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n32a03.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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