Did you know that Isaac Newton had two jobs? One, you know about: To figure out all that physics and math stuff so we could live for a while in a Newtonian world. The other was as th big honcho of the Royal Mint. Where they make the money.
In that second job, Newton had several interesting problems to deal with, which were in some ways more complex than how planets keep orbiting around stars and apples keep falling from trees. He needed to secure the coinage of the land against counterfeit, and in particular, to end the career of one particular counterfeiter, William Chaloner.
This story is expertly chronicled in Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Tom Levenson.
This is interesting for many reasons, including the fact that modern money, as we know it today (not coinage … that’s old … but the mint system itself) was pretty new, and modern law enforcement as we know of it today simply didn’t exist.
Of this book, Levenson notes:
Newton, I found, was a bureaucrat, a man with a job running England’s money supply at a time with surprising parallels to our own: new, poorly understood financial engineering to deal with what was a national currency and economic crisis. He was asked to think about money, and he did–and at the same time, he was given the job of Warden of the Mint, which among other duties put him charge of policing those who would fake or undermine the King’s coins. So there I had it: a gripping true crime story, with life-and-death stakes and enough information to follow my leading characters through the bad streets and worse jails of London–and one that at the same time let me explore some of critical moves in the making of the world we inhabit through the mind and feelings of perhaps the greatest scientific thinker who ever lived. How could I resist that?
This is a great read. I highly recommend it.