Isaac Newton in popular culture

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Isaac Newton was an English scientist, mathematician, natural philosopher, theologian and one of the most influential scientists in human history. His Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, is considered to be the most influential book in the history of science, laying the groundwork for most of classical mechanics. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of the differential and integral calculus.

Because of the resounding impact of his work, Newton became a scientific icon, much like Albert Einstein after his theory of relativity. Many books, plays, and films focus on Newton or use Newton as a literary device. Newton's stature among scientists remains at the very top rank, as demonstrated by a 2005 survey of scientists in Britain's Royal Society (formerly headed by Newton) asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton or Albert Einstein. Newton was deemed the more influential.[1] In 1999, leading physicists voted Einstein "greatest physicist ever;" Newton was the runner-up.[2]

Visual arts[edit]


The statue of Newton, located in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge

English poet Alexander Pope was moved by Newton's accomplishments to write the famous epitaph:[4]

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.

English poet Sir John Squire amusingly satirised this:[5]

It could not last; the Devil shouting "Ho!
Let Einstein be!" restored the status quo.

The following passage is from William Wordsworth's The Prelude, in which he describes a marble statue of Newton at Trinity College, Cambridge:[6]

And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.


Books about Newton[edit]

Books featuring Newton as a character[edit]

Books featuring Newton as a plot element[edit]

"(..) Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"
"The what?" said Richard.
"The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."
"Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."
"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissive shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ...

"You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see."


TV and radio[edit]

Films and video[edit]


Some atheists, skeptics, and others have referred to 25 December as Newtonmas, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Christmas. Celebrants send cards with "Reason's Greetings!" printed inside, and exchange boxes of apples and science-related items as gifts. The celebration may have had its origin in a meeting of the Newton Association at Christmas 1890 to talk, distribute gifts, and share laughter and good cheer. The name Newtonmas can be attributed to The Skeptics Society, which needed an alternative name for its Christmas party.[15] Another name for this holiday is Gravmas (also spelt Gravmass or Grav-mass) which is an abbreviation of "gravitational mass" due to Newton's Theory of Gravitation. [16]

In January 2015, Neil deGrasse Tyson noted that he was not "anti-Christian" referring to a message he tweeted on 25 December 2014 as follows:

Newton's birthday was 25 December under the Old Style Julian Calendar used in Protestant England at the time, but was 4 January under the New Style Gregorian Calendar used simultaneously in Catholic Europe. The period between has been proposed for a holiday season called "10 Days of Newton" to commemorate this.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Newton beats Einstein in polls of scientists and the public". The Royal Society. 23 November 2005. 
  2. ^ "Einstein "greatest physicist ever;" Newton runner-up". BBC News. 29 November 1999. 
  3. ^ Isaac Newton, Blake, William, Web Gallery of Art
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ J. Robert Barth (2003). Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination. University of Missouri Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8262-1453-9. 
  7. ^ "HPSC 109. Lecture 15. The Romantic Reaction 1: Romanticism and the Revolt Against Newtonianism". Archived from the original on 12 May 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  8. ^ James Thomson. "A Poem Sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton". Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  9. ^ Carol Rumens (26 January 2009). "Poem of the week: The Movement of Bodies". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  10. ^ Plays, MathFiction
  11. ^ Tei, Andrew (5 July 2002). "Anime Expo Friday Report". Retrieved 23 July 2008. Q) Where did the idea to use Isaac Newton as a model for Dornkirk (leader of Zaibach) come from? A) Kawamori answers by saying that Newton was an alchemist and wrote a book on alchemy. Kawamori came up with the theory that Newton discovered the "power" [of Atlantis]. He designed Dornkirk as not a bad guy. 
  12. ^ The Invention of Calculus - YouTube
  13. ^ Me & Isaac Newton,
  14. ^ Me & Isaac Newton, Monsters at Play Archived 11 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Winston, Kimberly (16 December 2011). "On Dec. 25, atheists celebrate a different birthday.". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 December 2011. [dead link]
  16. ^ Stallman, Richard M. "Celebrate Grav-Mass". Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  17. ^ Dawkins, Richard (13 December 2007). "Happy Newton Day! - December 25th is a date to celebrate not because it is the disputed birthday of the "son of God" but". New Statesman. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  18. ^ Bauder, David (7 January 2015). "Neil deGrasse Tyson Says He's Not Anti-Christian". Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  19. ^ Judson, Olivia (23 December 2008). "The 10 Days of Newton". The New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]