The Scientist published a nice review of a book that should be of great interest to numismatists - Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson. The book chronicles the great scientist's work at the Royal Mint and his dogged quest to fight for the integrity of Britain's coinage. -Editor Everyone knows the story about Sir Isaac Newton's run-in with an apple. But when you read Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson, you realize that there was more to the man than an extraordinary understanding of physics and philosophy. The book tells the story of how, in the author's words: "Newton, only months removed from the life of a Cambridge philosopher, managed incredibly swiftly to master every dirty job required of the seventeenth century version of a big-city cop."
What makes the story spellbinding is not just that Newton managed this transformation, but that in doing so he came up against a criminal mastermind who has few equals -- even in fiction -- for his imaginative brazenness. In 1695 the British government sought out Newton's opinion on troubling financial matters, and although his advice was for the most part disregarded, he ended up being appointed Warden of the English Mint that year.
The greatest mind of the 17th (or arguably any) century found himself in a position to use his superior mental powers to study and rectify the problems of England's Mint. Once he'd improved the manufacture of the King's coin by adding eight new rolling mills and five new coin presses to the Mint, his attention turned to the country's counterfeiters. This is when Newton morphed into a master sleuth, building a network of spies and informers in London's underworld, never hesitating to wade into unsavory, dangerous territory. His mania for detail helped him in matching wits with one of the most inventive criminals of the age, one William Chaloner.
Newton's careful records left Levenson a remarkably clear trail, for being written almost four centuries ago. Adding to the author's storytelling arsenal was an anonymous biography of Chaloner written shortly after his execution in 1698.
Levenson's pace and timing rival those of the best crime story authors. He has written a real page-turner, perfect for a long afternoon's engagement with the hammock or whiling away a long airport layover.
Newton and the Counterfeiter, by Thomas Levenson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-151-01278-7. 336 pp. $25.00.
To read the complete article, see: Newton the gumshoe (www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55860/)
Has anyone seen this book yet? Care to write a review for The E-Sylum? How does it compare to Newton at the Mint by John Craig? -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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