Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull

Krull's new Giants of Science series has debuted to rave reviews, and this bio of Newton makes it easy to see why. This is an outstanding biography of a strange, antisocial scientific genius from back when scientists were still called "natural philosophers."

It's interesting in light of so much contemporary self-help advice celebrating well-rounded lives to think of Newton, who probably contributed more to the creation of modern science than any other single person in the history of history. He was so far from being an enlightened being, tearing into his rivals ruthlessly and destroying their careers if they so much as criticized him. He hardly ate or slept while he was in his most productive phases. He certainly did not lead a balanced life.

Krull's narration is broken into highly digestible chapters, and she develops suspense and weaves topics together with the ease of a novelist. I think I would have hated this guy in real life, but his story is quirky and interesting, and certainly serves as a reminder that following one's bliss might look really weird to outsiders. Cranky and difficult as he was, Newton clearly pursued what he most cared about with unwavering focus--advancing science and tearing down the other guys.