Michael E. Marotta submitted the following review of Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson. Thanks!
Whether Sir Isaac Newton's battle with the criminal underworld is "unknown" may be putative. The general public may not be aware of it, just as they are unaware of anything beyond his having "discovered gravity." Numismatists may be more familiar with his tenure as warden and master of the British Royal Mint. Newton's prosecutions against counterfeiters have been a footnote to that, summarized in two works by Sir John Craig: "Isaac Newton and the Counterfeiters," (Notes and Records of the Royal Society (18), London: 1963); and Newton at the Mint. (Cambridge: University Press, 1946). This new book fills in the story nicely.
Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson (Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) is a masterwork narrative. Levenson teaches science journalism at MIT. He was granted a Peabody Award and an Emmy for his PBS Nova documentaries. Search the Barnes & Noble website,
media.barnesandnoble.com, and you will find that he is as comfortable in front of a camera as behind one.
Our editor, Wayne Homren, asked how this book compares to the works of Sir John Craig. For the numismatist, few, if any, new details come from this book. The story is what it is. Historical documents only reveal so much. We cannot apply our loupes to William Chaloner's counterfeit coins and banknotes. Levenson quarried the original documents, and then smelted, leached and refined them for public consumption. This book takes you to the streets of London at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, into the Mint, and down the alleys. Levenson creates powerful word images, scintillating with four-letter words properly engaged. You can smell London.
Detailed notes support the narrative, but they are not marked in the text. I kept the Notes bookmarked while I read. The Bibliography runs over 150 citations, including, of course, the works of Sir John Craig.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER BY THOMAS LEVENSON
Wayne Homren, Editor
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