He was a 17th century Einstein, who reduced nature?s chaos to a single set of laws and revolutionized the thinking and outlook of his age. But in the midst of his astonishing breakthroughs in physics, optics, and calculus,... more » Isaac Newton was also searching out hidden meanings in the Bible and pursuing the covert art of alchemy, or the changing of base metals into gold. With vivid docudrama scenes starring Scott Handy (Henry VIII) as Newton, NOVA recreates the unique climate of late 17th-century England, where a newfound fascination with science and mathematics coexisted with extreme views on religious doctrine. Unknown to most, Newton shared both obsessions. Besides revealing his secretive and vindictive personality, this NOVA special shows how he made the bold intellectual leaps that transformed science, such as the universal law of gravitation. Newton?s Dark Secrets also recreates one of Newton?s little-known alchemical experiments using his secret recipes, which have only recently been deciphered. With these lively glimpses of a brilliant and obsessive mind, NOVA explores how Newton became the giant on whose shoulders all later scientists would find a place to stand. Special DVD features include: materials and activities for educators; a link to the NOVA Web site; scene selections; closed captions; and described video for the visually impaired. On one DVD5 disc. Region coding: All regions. Audio: Dolby stereo. Screen format: Letterboxed.« less
One of NOVA's better episodes on eminent men of science/math
Irrational Expectations | Georgia | 11/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this episode of NOVA when it was originally aired and I thought it was pretty enjoyable. I think its odd that of all the eminent men of science, Newton seems to have the least "air time" when it comes to these docu-dramas. Especially since Newton's orignal work is far greater then Einstein's (who didn't even develop any of the mathematics or even all of the methods he employed for his relativity theory), as well being more technically difficult to accomplish for the time.
Compared to the multitude of shows dedicated to Einstein (NOVA's "E=MC^2 , World's most famous equation" being the latest), I'd say this is defintilly a superior production. The theme is supposed to be Newton's inquiries into alchemy and other eccentric pursuits, but really it focuses on his life in general. The actor that played Newton was very belivable (well, to be accurate, it's how I would picture Newton, whether thats close to reality or not...).
I've read parts of "Never at Rest," what is hailed as the definitive biography of Newton and the from what I've read (and what was actually mentiond in this production) there seems to be no contradictions. It even mentions that the Principia is written entirely in the analytic geometry of Descartes (rather then the Calculus).
The facaulty they have interviewed for this production are very entertaining. Espeically the one MIT professor, Walter Lewin behaves so eccentricly that he seems like the cliche Physics professor of popular culture.
An issue I noticed that they have ignored completly, is the spat that Newton had with Leibniz on who discovered Calculus first. From my understanding this was a really ugly part of Newton's history (he used his academic position to sort of attack Leibniz credebility). But at least as pure mathematics is concerned, Leibniz is really the more important of the two . We have inherited the "infetesimal" (which later was formalizd more by Cauchy and the rest) as well as most of our notation (and the name "Calculus") from Leibniz.
In any event, the show seems to merely state the "facts" and does not (thankfully) speculate needlessely on Newton's peronal life (Allegations of homosexuality have been prevelent in several modern biographies of Newton, which seems to be somewhat unfounded). I also enjoyed the background music, it really set the mood for alot of the scenes (which were not annoyingly flashly like the "E=MC^2" production). I did notice that some of the background music was recycled from NOVA's much earlier production "The Proof" (about Andrew Wiles).
In conclusion, I'd give this production an A+, it presents relevent facts on Newton's life, and ties in his occult ideas pretty well with the continutiy of his more well known discoveries, and has very enjoyable aesthetics, acting, and organization.
All in all, I hope there are more of these docu-dramas on Newton in the future, as this is certainly an individual whose importance is central in the history of the West (and humankind)."
Four Thumbs Up at Our House
Poniplaizy | Mount Joy, PA USA | 12/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We just stumbled on this show while watching TV one night, and we all found it riveting. It's very well-done and obviously thoroughly researched. What I liked best was that it conveyed Newton's character without glossing over his faults, but still sympathetically. None of us had learned much about him in school, so this aspect was pretty eye-opening. The only "fault" I can find is that the show just wasn't long enough to go into the kind of depth it left you wanting, or to talk much about the later part of Newton's life. However, there is also a bio that A&E did several years ago, and that does cover these areas. And there are some new books out that have gotten good reviews (though I haven't read them yet). This is a fascinating show and a good start if you want to know about an interesting character."
Keith Mirenberg | www.spaceanimations.org | 01/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think this is one of the finest documentaries I have ever watched on the life of our favorite physicist, Isaac Newton. It was beautifully done and the casting was excellent presenting an actor who resembled early drawings and paintings of Sir Isaac. In order to gain popular interest it was named "Newton's Dark Secrets" and documented his personal investigations into the occult arts including alchemy, numerology, and even bible predictions. I have read that a large number of his papers were burned around the time of his death, perhaps to conceal this portion of his interesting life from discovery. In any case, as mentioned by another writer it covered much more of his life than his occult interests. I found most interesting the fact that he did not wish to talk about or publish his early scientific studies, but once he was convinced to talk about them one had better believe what Isaac said or one would be in for a major "debate". I would rate this film five big stars for being informative, entertaining and just well done!"
A Fine Introduction to Newton
Steve Ruskin | Colorado, United States | 03/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent NOVA biography, and a great overview to the life and discoveries of Isaac Newton. With good acting, costuming and film work, and excellent commentary from some top historians of science (including Simon Schaffer, Jed Buchwald, and Peter Gallison), `Newton's Dark Secrets' serves as a great visual supplement to the overwhelming volume of books and articles on Newton's life. (If you need to start somewhere, save yourself the headache of sorting through it all and begin with the Canto edition of `The Life of Isaac Newton' by Richard Westfall.) Additionally, nice computer animations of the motion of the solar system help illustrate Newton's mathematical description of gravity.
The `...Dark Secrets' portion of the title of this video documentary refers to Newton's involvement with alchemy, the mystical body of knowledge concerned with transformation (e.g. turning lead into gold). In such a short documentary (56 minutes) it is difficult to flesh out the implications of Newton's alchemical work along with his sundry other accomplishments. Certainly he poured just as much of his genius into the practice of this arcane art as he did his studies on light, mathematics, and planetary motion.
But when NOVA poses the question, "how did Newton's alchemy affect his `proper' science?" the best they can come up with is to make a tenuous connection--a mere suggestion really--that Newton's alchemical studies into the "active" properties of nature enabled him to accept the idea of gravity as "action at a distance" (which was at the time a truly occult notion: the very idea that two unconnected objects could somehow affect each other!). While this is a little dissatisfying, it's a tough question to answer anyway given the brevity of the DVD and also because so much about Newton's alchemical researches remains unknown. This is a minor complaint about an otherwise excellent biography of Newton."
An excellent look at an influential scientist
Dream's Raven | USA | 02/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love science documentaries that examine both the ideas and the person or people who produced them, and I also like biographies that cut through all the legends and show what the real subject was all about, and this documentary does both of those. It examines Newton's theories in the context of how he wrote them, bringing them to life. It also gets past the view that he was a cold, rationalistic thinker, and shows his strong but heretical religious convictions and his practice of alchemy, proving that he was not only into science but pseudo-science as well. I learned a lot from this well-made, easy-to-follow documentary."