Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson
Who knew that Newton spent the last 25 years away from Cambridge and a good portion of that time he was “Master of the Mint” and in charge of overseeing the production and security of England’s money supply.
The author does a nice job making reasonable speculations on why Newton's previous pursuits prepared him to be an ideal candidate for fixing England’s coinage problems. I particularly liked the notion that Newton was not unaware that his discoveries about the nature of the universe might lead some away for belief in God, and that was why he spent decades secretly investigating Alchemy. Somehow he got the notion that Alchemy would prove the existence of God and that fueled his determination to crack the alchemy puzzle. As we all know now that whole turning base metal in to Gold didn't take off so well.
In any case he was as rigorous an alchemist as he was in his other more traditional scientific pursuits. And since he was forced to hide his alchemy studies he had to do most of the mundane tasks like melting different metals for himself. This was just the sort of knowledge that would come in handy when he is in charge of re-minting ALL of England’s coins.
It tuns out the coin minting standards of the day enabled industrious counterfeiters to have a pretty good time. The job of overseeing coining was determined by contacts and not competence and it seems if a crook was smart enough to figure out how to copy coins they often managed to talk their way out of the gallows (counterfeiting was a capital offense)
After Newton got the job I it must have been a sight to see a con man trying to bamboozle with faux complexity the man who created Calculus. And the idea of one of the smartest men in history turned into detective on the scent of villains is inherently fascinating
Anyway, an interesting story with believable insights about a brilliant man who died almost 300 years ago.
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