Tom Levenson January 27, 2011

“Newton and the Counterfeiter is both a fascinating read and a meticulously researched historical document: a combination difficult to achieve and rarely seen . . . Recommended for anyone who wants to know the real story behind this astonishing but largely overlooked chapter of scientific history.”
–Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon and Anathem

Now that’s what I call a blurb, although it’s interesting that there is no reference to the Baroque Cycle, a three volume novel in which Stephenson finally lets himself go, and write a book of the length he has always wanted to.  Believe it or not, I started rereading it a couple of months ago, and somehow managed to lose the first volume, which is sorta like misplacing an anvil.

Tom Levenson, of MIT and newly minted frontpager at Balloon Juice joins us Thursday evening at 9pm Eastern. We will start off talking about his book.

Newton and the Counterfeiter is both fun to read, and stuffed with historical detail of Isaac Newton’s time and place–a time and place that was a cusp for the modern European world. Not only was our understanding of the universe profoundly altered, but the way in which economic society was organized was taking shape at the same time, with people just starting to understand, and accept ideas as wide ranging as a global marketplace for goods to  currency without intrinsic value. Or, more to the point,  the recognition that metal currency did not itself have intrinsic value–that the value was an illusion that could just as easily be extended to a piece of paper with the portrait of a monarch on it as to a piece of metal with the same portrait.

There are historical tidbits from Newton’s life that we’ll discuss–the alchemy research, an apparent period of depression and other details that are not normally part of people’s view of Newton.  That view, by the way, of Newton as a Titan of Science is, if anything, understated, both in terms of the depth of his genius and in the influence of his work.

But Tom does too much other stuff to spend the hour on the book, so we will be talking about science writing, science in journalism, and the future of the blogosphere, or, rather, the future of citizen communication using public access media powered by the internet infrastructure. In particular. we will talk about the NRA fighting to keep science out of the assessment of gun policy.

As always, post any comments or questions you would like passed on here in comments.

–Updated to add the NRA link, fix some typos and make the bookjacket link to Indiebooks work.

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One Response to Tom Levenson January 27, 2011

  1. […] Vendors use balance scales, and weights that have been stamped by an authority. Or, if you read Tom Levenson’s book about Newton and the Counterfeiter that we talked about last week, you’d know similar problems with reliability of the currency […]

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