Reading Popular Newtonianism Print, the Principia, and the Dissemination of Newtonian Science by Laura Miller

June 25, 2018


Sir Isaac Newton’s publications, and those he inspired, were among the most significant works published during the long eighteenth century in Britain. Concepts such as attraction and extrapolation—detailed in his landmark monograph Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica—found their way into both scientific and cultural discourse. Understanding the trajectory of Newton’s diverse critical and popular reception in print demands consideration of how his ideas were disseminated in a marketplace comprised of readers with varying levels of interest and expertise.

Reading Popular Newtonianism focuses on the reception of Newton's works in a context framed by authorship, print, editorial practices, and reading. Informed by sustained archival work and multiple critical approaches, Laura Miller asserts that print facilitated the mainstreaming of Newton's ideas. In addition to his reading habits and his manipulation of print conventions in the Principia, Miller analyzes the implied readership of various "popularizations" as well as readers traced through the New York Society Library's borrowing records. Many of the works considered—including encyclopedias, poems, and a work written "for the ladies"—are not scientifically innovative but are essential to eighteenth-century readers’ engagement with Newtonian ideas. Revising the timeline in which Newton’s scientific ideas entered eighteenth-century culture, Reading Popular Newtonianism is the first book to interrogate at length the importance of print to his consequential career.




"Richly sourced and innovative, Reading Popular Newtonianism is a substantial and most welcome contribution to eighteenth-century cultural studies."


Barbara Benedict, Trinity College, author of Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry



" Reading Popular Newtonianism makes a landmark contribution to our understanding of the cultural meanings and social impact of one of the central figures in the history of science and ideas. Far from relying on the work of later interlocutors like Algarotti, Pemberton and MacLaurin, Miller reveals how Newton took advantage of conventional and innovative print tools to make his most complex ideas intelligible from the outset to a much wider range of readers than scholars have ever fully understood. By overlooking the materiality of Newton's publishing career, Miller shows that scholars have fundamentally misunderstood what Newton himself was trying to do and how his work was originally encountered by ordinary readers - and in the process makes important interventions in the history of science, eighteenth-century studies and the history of books and reading in the Age of Enlightenment."


Mark R. M. Towsey, University of Liverpool, author of Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and their Readers in Provincial Scotland 1750-1820



About the Author: 

Laura Miller is Associate Professor of English at the University of West Georgia.

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