Sold! The Most Expensive Science Book

Jan 9, 2017 By James H, Young Editor
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At auctions, science texts usually don’t sell for a high price.

But Isaac Newton’s Principia (short for Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica) is an exception. A rare copy of this manuscript was recently sold for U.S $3.7 million - the highest selling price for a science book.

Published in 1687, this is one of 80 copies of the published continental European edition. Compared to the 400 copies of the British edition, this script is a rare and valuable copy that is the closest to Newton’s original manuscript which is currently owned by the Royal Society.

Before we see what this text is all about, let’s talk a little more about who this famous scientist was.

Who Was Isaac Newton?

Born on January 4th, 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England, Isaac Newton did not have a happy childhood. His father died before he was born, and his mother remarried and left him to live with his grandmother.

In 1661, Newton went to Cambridge University, where he studied the works of astronomers and philosophers like Galileo and Copernicus. Although not a standout scholar, Newton received his Master of Arts Degree, became a professor at Cambridge, and was elected into the Royal Society. This marked the beginning of Newton’s science career.

During his career, Newton published several scientific works that earned his fame and fortune, especially the Principia. Despite his fame, Newton got into a bitter dispute with fellow scientist Robert Hooke, who claimed that he should receive credit for Newton’s ideas in Principia. As revenge, Newton removed every mention of Hooke’s name in his works. He was elected the president of the Royal Society and was also made Master of the Royal Mint. Newton enjoyed a life of influence and prominence in London until he died in 1727.

What His Texts Did To Our World

Back to the text that sold for 3.7 million dollars. Why would this text be so important to us?

Newton’s work played an important role in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, especially in laying the groundwork for physics. Newton’s well-known three laws of motion were published in this text, and concepts such as gravity and its effect on ocean tides, and proof of a planet’s elliptical orbit were explained in Principia.

Newton's book sold out within days of its release. As expected, it was met with criticism, with some questioning the nature of gravity, and others complaining that it promoted atheism and did not refer to a divine hand. Newton released a second version where he attempted to placate his critics. 

Many scientific ideas of today would not exist without the contributions Newton made to the science of the universe.