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Reading Popular Newtonianism

Print, the Principia, and the Dissemination of Newtonian Science
Laura Miller

BUY Cloth · 248 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941257 · $45.00 · Jun 2018
BUY Ebook · 248 pp. · ISBN 9780813941264 · $45.00 · Jun 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

[A] valuable and wide-ranging contribution to the field. This book is notable for its emphasis on the attributes of Principia as a printed material object in the subsequent dissemination of its ideas, and for the impressive breadth and variety of the strands of evidence Miller gathers.

Library & Information History

Laura Miller’s Reading Popular Newtonianism: Print, the Principia, and the Dissemination of Newtonian Science considers the publication of the Principia as a text in the marketplace of books and ideas. Miller’s analysis reveals Newton not only as a monumental scientific thinker, but also as a writer keenly attuned to the publication and reception of his texts. Additionally, Miller provides a much-needed and supple discussion of what we think of as the popularization of Newtonian science among contemporaries.

Science and Medicine

Laura Miller makes an important contribution to a number of critical fields: the history of science, print and book history, and literary and cultural studies.... The strengths of this book are manifold; it is superbly and persuasively written, expertly presented, and exhaustively researched.... A successful bridge between multiple disciplinary fields, all readers are sure to gain much from picking up this volume, and I highly recommend it.


A coherent and compelling narrative that takes us from the expert epicenter of Newtonianism in the late seventeenth century through to its still-reverbating tremors across popular culture at the close of the eighteenth century.... This book offers some important lessons for the history and philosophy of science in the present day: about the nature of popularization; about the exclusivity of Western science; and about how ideas are packaged and disseminated.


About the Author(s): 

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

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