Isaac Newton's Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, published in 1728, one year after the great man's death, unleashed a storm of controversy. And for good reason. The book presents a drastically revised timeline for ancient civilizations, contracting Greek history by five hundred years and Egypt's by a millennium. Newton and the Origin of Civilization tells the story of how one of the most celebrated figures in the history of mathematics, optics, and mechanics came to apply his unique ways of thinking to problems of history, theology, and mythology, and of how his radical ideas produced an uproar that reverberated in Europe's learned circles throughout the eighteenth century and beyond.
Jed Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold reveal the manner in which Newton strove for nearly half a century to rectify universal history by reading ancient texts through the lens of astronomy, and to create a tight theoretical system for interpreting the evolution of civilization on the basis of population dynamics. It was during Newton's earliest years at Cambridge that he developed the core of his singular method for generating and working with trustworthy knowledge, which he applied to his study of the past with the same rigor he brought to his work in physics and mathematics. Drawing extensively on Newton's unpublished papers and a host of other primary sources, Buchwald and Feingold reconcile Isaac Newton the rational scientist with Newton the natural philosopher, alchemist, theologian, and chronologist of ancient history.
Jed Z. Buchwald is the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology. His books include The Zodiac of Paris: How an Improbable Controversy over an Ancient Egyptian Artifact Provoked a Modern Debate between Religion and Science (Princeton). Mordechai Feingold is professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Newtonian Moment: Isaac Newton and the Making of Modern Culture.
"This argument for intellectual unity in Newton's method of working gives Newton and the Origin of Civlization philosophical as well as historical originality and importance . . . represents a climacteric in our understanding of its subject's life and thought."--Scott Mandelbrote, Times Literary Supplement
"After Gibbon, however, Newton's work as a historian fell into a long oblivion, from which Frank Manuel rescued it in the 1960s; but his elegant study, Isaac Newton: Historian, has now been dwarfed by the labours of Buchwald and Feingold."--Jonathan Reé, London Review of Books
"[T]he story that Buchwald and Feingold trace is a rich and complicated one. The debates are mathematically technical and require a good understanding of ancient Egyptian and classical mythology and biblical history. It would be advantageous for the reader to be fluent in these matters; however, given the nature of Newton's overall approach, this book would certainly benefit a more general reader, particularly one interested in debates about the reliability of textual accounts. This study also compliments scholarship on early modern studies of the Earth where mineralogists and geologists used the history of ancient civilizations as an analogy for establishing Earth chronology, and it potentially sheds light on the regular use of astronomy as a model for thinking about credible arguments in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century geology. As the first study to seriously engage with Newton as a chronologer since Frank Manuel's Isaac Newton, Historian (1963), Buchwald and Feingold's publication significantly adds to scholarly commentary on Newton."--Allison Ksiazkiewicz, British Journal for the History of Science
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Jed Z. Buchwald: