Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, editio seconde auctore et emende
Cambridge, 1713.
Second edition.
4to. 22.8 x 18.7 cm. Folding engraved plate.
Vellum over boards.
Isaac Newton's Principia, first published in 1687, is generally regarded as the most important book in the history of science. Newton prepared the second edition (Cambridge 1713) in response to questions and criticisms generated by the appearance of the first edition. The most substantive new material to appear in the second edition is the so-called "General Scholium" that prefaces the body of the work, where Newton discusses the philosophical implications of the universal law of gravitation.
It could be said that the Principia is the most important book that nobody has ever read. In working out its many proofs, Newton did not use the calculus that he had developed, but employed classical geometrical methods. These methods were well known among mathematicians during his time, but were exceedingly difficult to apply to the mechanics of gravitation and moving bodies. (Newton himself complained that the sheer mental effort required to think through the proofs often left him completely exhausted.) It can be speculated that one of the reasons the French natural philosophers eclipsed the English in the development of mechanics during the second half of the eighteenth century is because they used far more flexible and practical algebraic formulations for the calculus, while the English stubbornly clung to the geometrical methods of their idol Newton. As a result, the original works of Laplace, Legendre, Lagrange, and others are easily readable by a modern physicist, while the Principia is basically incomprehensible.
Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Cambridge 1713.