Isaac Newton: The Last Magician

Fri Apr 12, 9-10pm, BBC2

Isaac Newton was the Billy No-Mates of science. He was a peculiar adolescent, once deliberately plunging a toothpick into his own eye during an investigation into the mechanics of sight. And he grew into a strange man too: rejecting intimacy of any sort and reacting to unfavourable peer reviews by deliberately isolating himself from the world. In solitude, of course, he produced insights of unfathomable brilliance.

Renny Bartlett’s documentary does a good job of explaining the science while at the same time, analysing the man – words like misanthrope and even psychopath crop up from time to time. Many of the more revelatory passages of the film come courtesy of personal papers rescued and purchased by economist John Maynard Keynes. These documents reveal that Newton had a little-considered sideline in heresy and alchemy too. ‘Not the first of the age of reason,’ reckoned Keynes. ‘The last of the magicians.’

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