Thursday, October 27, 2016

Everything Old is New: Kickstarter Campaign to Reissue Newton's Principia Gains Momentum

On any list of famous names in science, Sir Isaac Newton's is always near the top. Sure, he had his crazy side, but his contributions to mathematics and physics changed the world of science forever. The law of gravity, the foundations of calculus—we owe so much to Newton's work that the fundamental laws of mechanics and motion bear his name. Now, neophyte publisher Kronecker Wallis is hoping to bring Newton's work to a new generation of readers by creating a new edition of the Principia Mathematica, the foundational text where Newton's laws of motion were codified for the first time.

The reissue of Newton's Principia promises a minimalist design to contrast 
with the complexity of its content.
Image Credit: Kronecker Wallis
The new edition is clearly a labor of love for the people at Kronecker Wallis, who have released a few promotional videos to drum up excitement. One, in which the final product is displayed, has a swelling piano soundtrack that fits their characterization of the project as a revival of one of physics' most important texts.

Another video, which gives a glimpse into the creative process behind the work, features a bouncy, cheerful ukulele-and-whistling audio track that seems to be somewhat at odds with the first video, but which is still fun to watch in a soothing, how-it's-made kind of way.

The printing itself will see the text's three main subsections bound into separate volumes, each dry-embossed with one of the first three letters of the greek alphabet. Unlike most physics texts, where aesthetic concerns often seem like an afterthought, this one looks like something you can hold comfortably in one hand.
Leaving the books' binding visible, an unusual stylistic choice, will hopefully 
create a unique vibe while also allowing the book to be opened more easily.
Image Credit: Kronecker Wallis
Focusing so heavily on design is a good strategy for a modern publishing company—the days of buying books purely for their content are coming to an end, especially with works that have been around long enough to fall into the public domain. When anyone can find a book's information online for free, the publisher's job—creating something aesthetically appealing that people want to own, touch, and rifle through—is more important than ever, and Kronecker Wallis seems determined to do the Principia justice.

It's rare for any kind of scientific work to stand the test of time over more than three hundred years, but the laws laid down in the Principia are still being taught and used in physics classrooms worldwide today. Unfortunately, as of right now the campaign is still about $15,000 short of its goal, so there's still a chance the project won't end up seeing the light of day. But you can help! If you're looking to own a gorgeously minimalistic version of a really important text, or if you're gift-shopping for a physicist (or an aspiring physicist), ~$50 will get you a copy of the new edition when it comes out. As the campaign's webpage says it:
"In the end, it’s about keeping cultural, technical, scientific and philosophical heritage alive alongside us, just as this work deserves."

Stephen Skolnick

P.S. We're not getting any kind of kickbacks for this post; if it reads like an ad, it's because I'm personally really excited about the project and want to see it reach its goal!

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