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Newton's "Principia" stolen 439

Silverleaf writes "O2 have a story on the theft of Isaac Newton's revolutionary "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" from a Russian museum. For the non-physicists among you, Newton first published his famed three laws of motion and his law of universal gravitation in "Principia" in 1687. I'm surprised this theft hasn't attracted more attention in the mainstream media, since "Principia" is generally considered the most important scientific works in history."
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Newton's "Principia" stolen

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  • It's ok... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bob Cat - NYMPHS ( 313647 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:30PM (#4648111) Homepage
    I have that in paperback. They can have mine.
    • Re:It's ok... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mwheeler01 ( 625017 )
      It's ok because Newton stole most of his material anyways
  • Not Found
    The requested URL /news/OLGBTOPNEWS/2002-11-10T173943Z_01_L10426000_ RTRIDST_0_OUKTP-LIFE-RUSSIA-NEWTON.html was not found on this server.
  • link broken.. (Score:2, Informative)

    Other source of info on this story: ne ws&StoryID=1715112
  • Working links (Score:3, Informative)

    by HeroicAutobot ( 171588 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:32PM (#4648125) Homepage
    The O2 site seems to have taken the story down.

    Google news has some more links. []

  • I know (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It must've been Hudson Hawk who stole it..

    • Damn. You beat me to the punch. --Only I would have said, "Bruce Willis", just to make the reference sound more high-brow and clever and such. But either way. . .

      So does this invalidate the three laws, or are people still allowed to fly to the moon?

      -Fantastic Lad

  • Ebay (Score:5, Funny)

    by charlie763 ( 529636 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:32PM (#4648127) Homepage
    Check on ebay, I'm sure it'll be on there soon...
  • by Bobulusman ( 467474 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:32PM (#4648128)
    That that thief will have a hard time finding a buyer. After all, it's hard explain where you got a one of kind book like this.
    • by Bitsy Boffin ( 110334 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:36PM (#4648163) Homepage
      I'd imagine something so specific as that would only be stolen to order. Probably a buyer already lined up or employed the bad guys to steal it for them.
      • I heard there was this weird rich couple interested in it; something about a crystal hidden in the spine?
      • Uh-oh, likes like the MPAA has gotten to this one. Dillusional conspiracy theory, packed with anonymous bad guys acting as front for the "Buyer." He is not completely gone as he not referred to hoping that Tia Carrere, will rescue the book, ala "Relic Hunter."

        CmdrTaco, prepare the Brain Degauser...

      • The whole event appears in next week's Alias where Syd pretends to be a philosopher of physics looking for note by Rambaldi in the margins.
    • by rodgerd ( 402 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:39PM (#4648188) Homepage
      Some shitbag will be ahppy to lock it away in a safe where they can gloat over it, happy in the knowlege they now have it at the expense of everyone else in the world.

      (Not unlike a description of the general process of privatizing the public sphere, really...)
      • Not unlike a description of the general process of privatizing the public sphere, really...
        except that privatization usually involves taking something away from the influence of a select few whose sole motivation is political gain and placing it under the influence of an arbitrarily large subset of the public whose sole motivation is the increase of its value (which is linked, in most cases, to its operating efficiency).
      • Some shitbag will be ahppy to lock it away in a safe where they can gloat over it, happy in the knowlege they now have it at the expense of everyone else in the world.

        Curse them! Now we'll have to start mathematics all over from the 16th century.

        I know hindsight is 20/20, but we should have made a copy while we had a chance.
    • Maybe the thief can put it in a museum...

      Who did the Russians steal it from, anyways?

  • Google Cache (Score:3, Informative)

    by Keebler71 ( 520908 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:33PM (#4648130) Journal
    Here [] is the cached article
  • by whereiswaldo ( 459052 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:33PM (#4648137) Journal

    Didn't someone at least make a photocopy of it?!
    • by jkramar ( 583118 )
      They did. [] I realize this was a joke, but, coincidentally, I had been looking for it online just last week, and the linked site contains a full scanned-in copy of what might very well be the first edition.
  • Holy shit! (Score:5, Funny)

    by EggplantMan ( 549708 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:33PM (#4648140) Homepage
    Where the hell am I supposed to find obscure geometrical proofs of things otherwised proved by calculus now!?
    • Rumors ... (Score:3, Funny)

      by DanEsparza ( 208103 )
      You might want to sit down for this.

      I hate to break it to you, but there are rumors that Newton actually created calculus too. Luckily, calculus hasn't been stolen yet, but it's under close watch now.

      More at eleven ...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Newton proves the principles of calculus with geometry. Calculus basically is geometry. There have been all kinds of notation for calculus over the years, but the notation is really just shorthand for the geometry. If you can't prove it geometrically then, while it still holds true experimentally, it's hard to trace it to its first principles. The point is that you can't really say something is "proved by calculus" now, because what that means is that it's proved by the geometry that Newton uses.

      Still, sure, you can learn all about the application of the math without knowing the theoretical underpinnings all the way back to geometric first principles, but it's much more intellectually rewarding to trace them. And it's necessary in order to say that an equation is "proved" mathematically. Theories do get non-Euclidean sometimes, but you can't really appreciate that unless you know the Euclidean things themselves work.

  • *gasp* (Score:4, Funny)

    by Windcatcher ( 566458 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:35PM (#4648153)



    They stole... Principia ?!

    (screams to the next room) BRING ME MY GUN!
  • Library link (Score:5, Informative)

    by prostoalex ( 308614 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:37PM (#4648172) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps there should be link to the library [] as well. Their online exhibitions section [] has some interesting links for a literature buff.
  • by SeanTobin ( 138474 ) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <rtnuhdryb>> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:38PM (#4648177)
    They have stolen the web page as well!
  • by CySurflex ( 564206 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:39PM (#4648187)
    Newtons essay is actually written on special material that in fact houses the CORE FUNDAMENTIAL ELEMENTS tha stabalize the laws of physics in our universe. If the theif has it in his mind to incenerate said document, be prepared for chaos. Apples not falling from trees, velocity and acceleration NOT functioning in automobiles (even Italian sportscars), Microsoft going open source, alphas of Doom III leaking. You get my drift. Just be careful.
  • by no soup for you ( 607826 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ttomaglow.essej>> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:40PM (#4648191) Homepage
    From ws&StoryID=1715112

    ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Thieves have stolen Newton's "apple" from a Russian museum -- the celebrated book in which the 17th century English physicist formulated his eponymous law on gravity which revolutionized science.

    Posing as readers, the thieves stole a rare first edition of Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" from the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, a library official told Reuters Sunday.

    "The loss was discovered straight away when the reading room was closing on November 6 and it had not been returned by the readers who had requested it," the official said.

    The theft was reported to police Friday.

    Newton's "Principia" (or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, is considered to be one of the most important single works in the history of modern science.

    In "Principia" Newton formulates the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation.

    Legend has it that the young Newton was reading under an apple tree when he was struck on the head by a falling fruit, an innocuous event which provided the inspiration for his theories on gravity and secured him a place in history.

    His new laws helped him to explain a range of phenomena, including the motion of planets, moons and comets within the solar system, the behavior of Earth's tides, the procession of the equinoxes and irregularities in the moon's orbit.

    The library official said the stolen book was usually kept in the archives and only given out to readers for work in the library's reading room.
  • Plural (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Plug ( 14127 )
    "Principia" is generally considered the most important scientific works in history."

    All of them? That must be a pretty important book! And one of these Principia were stolen, or more?

    Perhaps you meant 'among the most important scientific works in history'...
  • in the place of Newton's tome, 1,000,000 copies of the Principia Discordia were left behind by the 'so called' thieves, who were really making a political statement.

    The Newton Tome can be found in the Men's room on the third floor, a little light reading while the free speech advocates took a little 'break'.

  • by bigsexyjoe ( 581721 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:44PM (#4648208)
    They stole a rare first edition copy. Not the orginal or only copy. It isn't good, but it explains why the press didn't make a big deal out of it.

    It wasn't even kept under tight security. They let people read it in the reading room.

    • A good thing, too. If they lifted the original, geez, every physicist on the planet would be screaming for BLOOD. Heck, the nuclear guys alone would be sharpening Pu-238 rods for some ... er ... intimate interrogation of the suspects. And I don't even want to think of what the fields people would do...I suspect the fate they'd plan would make being stuck in a microwave look like getting a lap dance.
    • Thank you. I was waiting for someone to point that out. I wonder how many 1st editions are still in existance.

      Its the sort of thing that turns up on Antique Roadshow. I can hear the goober now..."I found this in my great-great grandpa's attic. You think I could trade her for sumthin good?...Gooollly, that's a lot of money!"

    • With all of the copyright extensions going around, it's probably still one of the only copies. This is no different than copying the book and distributing it online, a crime is a crime, whether physical or cyber.
    • It seems silly, honestly. The last time I tried to go see the Gutenberg Bible at Texas Christian University, they wanted to make prints of just about every part of my body that had wrinkles. Even without the Neal Stephenson reference, it took quite a lot to get into see it, and I was never left alone with it.

      I suppose part of the reason this wasn't done for Principia was money ... but shouldn't security be SOP for any rare or wildly valuable work in public hands?

    • It wasn't even kept under tight security. They let people read it in the reading room.

      That's pretty normal -- heck, I've even read an first edition of John Dee's English translation of Euclid (1570) in a university library. Typically, one just can't check out rare books -- there is no rule against reading them in the library.
  • Oops (Score:5, Funny)

    by ( 316593 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:45PM (#4648217) Homepage
    >Not Found
    >The requested URL /news/OLGBTOPNEWS/2002-11-10T173943Z_01_L10426000_ RTRIDST_0_OUKTP-LIFE-RUSSIA-NEWTON.html was not found on this server.

    Well, duh! That's what the story is about. :)
  • by A Guy From Ottawa ( 599281 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:48PM (#4648237)
    He was right all along...

    The "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" remained in it's initial state of rest (at a museum in russia) until it was acted upon by those theives.

    One can only hope that there will be an equal but opposite force exerted upon the theives, as forces always occur in pairs!

  • bah (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:48PM (#4648238) Homepage Journal

    Newton died years ago. Why not put something in the museum that's a bit more contemporary?
    Maybe some Harlequin Romances or Stephen King?
    • Re:bah (Score:5, Funny)

      by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @01:56AM (#4648902)
      Because, unlike Harlequin books or King's works, Newton's Principa finally came out of copyright last month or so.
  • by Sivar ( 316343 )
    Isaac Newton's revolutionary "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" from a Russian museum.

    Odd. I could have sworn it was located in the Huntington museum in California, along with Newton's notes, seeing as how I saw it not six months ago.

    Of course, it may have been moved to Russia since then. See if we'll ever loan them a famous scientific work again! :)
    • I think someone else might have mentioned this already. It wasn't the original that was stolen, but rather a first editon printing.
  • but eaten it, so that the incarnation of Newton wouldn't hurt his girlfriend; but then he would have stolen the idea from Red Dragon []

    "No, I don't want hurt her, but Newton third Law urges me...."
  • Originals in Art, especially those painted or otherwise created non digitally are hard to recreate. The information stored in the way Newton wrote, the shapes of the letters, etc is not THAT important. However, the brush strokes of a Monet or Manet are priceless.

  • Broken Link? (Score:3, Informative)

    by CodeWheeney ( 314094 ) <{moc.liam} {ta} {ydissaCmiJ}> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:53PM (#4648270) Homepage
    Try Reuters []
  • Steve baby (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Look out Stephen Hawking - you're next!!
  • How, how, how? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gamgee5273 ( 410326 ) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:56PM (#4648287) Homepage Journal
    How the hell do you sell that on the black market? Is there some reclusive physicist out there collecting rare works (Einstein's drink napkin from Le Lapin Agile!) that will pay top dollar for this? If so, how does he/she show it off to their friends and family (assuming that they aren't that reclusive)? How do you explain that you just happen to have this sitting around in the family room?
  • by ez76 ( 322080 ) <<su.67e> <ta> <todhsals>> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:56PM (#4648288) Homepage
    I fear the crime will stay unsolved unless it is acted upon by an outside force.
  • I'm surprised this theft hasn't attracted more attention in the mainstream media, since "Principia" is generally considered the most important scientific works in history."

    Oh, come on. Get real... The Sooners lost to the Aggies in College Station. No mystery here.
  • "theft" (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:58PM (#4648302)
    Once and for all, taking a physical item from its owner is not "theft". Yes this is the common usage these days, but saying something over and over doesn't make it true.

    If you want to be accurate, use the word "take". As in, someone "took" the Principia Mathematica.

    If you want to give it a positive connotation, use the term "shared" or "loan". As in, I just "shared" my copy of the Principia with a stranger, or I just involuntarily "loaned" my copy to a man in a ski mask with a gun.

    Let the RIAA and other thugs use their propaganda words. I'll stick with morally neutral terminology.

    Remember, matter just wants to be free. This doesn't mean zero cost, but it means once you pick up a physical object, you can put it in your pocket and head for the hills, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

    Besides, I believe the Supreme Court has already ruled that people have the right to "space-shift" other people's possessions.
    • Thanks! This reminds me of a very old Benny Hill routine: "No, officer, I did not kill my wife. She just felll on the knife. 12 times. Backwards." That is, just how much circumlocution will we tolerate.

      For the record (one exempt from RIAA) it is nice looking book, and Australia has one [].
  • I think there's still some bad blood because Gottfried didn't get the proper credit.

    Get my drift? []

  • Sounds like something her gang would be involved in.


  • Thank god I have my own copy!
  • Perhaps the thieves wanted to see if Newton was for real about the whole "gravity" thing.
  • The copyright expired, so the Evil Content Pirates(tm) just thought they could take it!

    Seriously, I hope they find this thing soon. It's got to be priceless.
  • Don't Panic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kaboom13 ( 235759 ) <> on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @12:16AM (#4648397)
    This is a rare first edition, not a hand written manuscript. Although these selfish thieves have deprived Russian students of a rare and valuable text, it is not unique. A quick google search revealed that among other universities, Georgia Tech owns not only a first edition identical to the one being stolen (although the russian copy may have been in better condition, the article doesn't say) they also have a rare second and a rare third edition( sum99/newton.html). Some other results also credited the University of Cambridge for having the most complete collection of Newton's papers. Rare first editions are mainly for bragging rights anyway. I don't see why this should be an international incident as the story suggests. Very few people outside of Russia would have ever seen it anyway, as there are other copies available in mroe convenient places anyway.
  • Sigh... (Score:3, Funny)

    by x136 ( 513282 ) on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @12:20AM (#4648418) Homepage
    I saw the headline "Newton's Principia stolen" and immediately thought that someone stole a technology called "Principia" from the NewtonOS.

    Damn, I'm a geek.
  • by Charles Dodgeson ( 248492 ) <> on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @12:24AM (#4648442) Homepage Journal
    Surely Leibniz should be considered an initial suspect.
  • I have seen comments about how the story wasn't covered anywhere but one Reuter's article and Moscow Times. And decided to check what's going on with main russian-language news sites.

    NOTHING. Not a single mention whatsoever. Checked 5 of the most popular newsfeeds. No mention.
    Simple search ( for the unduly curious :)
    turned up several articles on lesser sites. Among the interesting tidbits:
    * Another book is also missing, a 1913 edition of some book called "Le Futur" by Bolshakov
    * The book is unique (other than being the first edition) because it has marks/stamps from many other libraries. I wasn't quite sure what that meant - only one article mentioned it - but probably the history of book's ownership is quite interesting.
  • No security? Heck, I saw at least five guys with machine guns when I borrowed it. I'm just trying to scan a page a day for the Project Gutenberg, and well, it is taking a lot longer than I thought. Those calculus thingies don't OCR well at all....
  • Why do people view some sets of information as too valuable for one person to own (eg, the thief or the person who hired them) yet still back the very concept of Intellecual Property?

    After all, all the robber did was remove it from the public domain, effectively. Illegal, sure, but the effect is the same; the public is out a tremendous good to benefit the greedy few/one.

    Where is the difference?
  • by schnell ( 163007 ) <me.schnell@net> on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @01:04AM (#4648624) Homepage

    ...I'm definitely going to take advantage of F !=ma []. I'm going to give my car a good shove tomorrow morning and ride it all the way to work.

    I just hope that we don't spin out of orbit while F != G(m1m2)/d2 []. I guess, though, that if we start to spin out of orbit, somebody on the far side of the planet can just give it a shove and we'll be back in place.

    Unfortunately, I've already noticed my CPU getting hotter []. And I stood on this really tall guy's shoulders but I couldn't see very far...

  • "Eat up martha"

    Fans will think it is funny, others will think it is overrated.

    "The emperor and his new clothes" syndrome should be good for at least a +4

  • Tragic though this may be... it hasn't stopped the planets' turning ;)
  • by nizo ( 81281 ) on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @01:52AM (#4648878) Homepage Journal
    I'm surprised this theft hasn't attracted more attention in the mainstream media

    At least in America this is probably due to the fact that when someone says "Newton" the first thing we think of is "Fig".
  • I'm not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @02:41AM (#4649080)
    I'm surprised this theft hasn't attracted more attention in the mainstream media, since "Principia" is generally considered the most important scientific works in history."

    I think it's particularly telling but not at all suprising that this hasn't gotten the attention that a theft of other items such as art would get. The media and liberal arts people who would make a fuss don't understand or care about science, so they would give a lot more attention to the scribblings of a second rate artist than to a scientific work. Scientists value the information, not the paper, and know that can't be taken, and the media gives them little attention anyway unless a giant rock is heading towards Earth. It's a shame to have the artifact vanish, but I'm not at all surprised that more attention is given when a thief breaks in and steals from Madonna.

  • by Get Behind the Mule ( 61986 ) on Tuesday November 12, 2002 @06:17AM (#4649703)
    I remember watching C-SPAN years ago when some bill or other about federal funding for scientific research was being debated. Some typical Congresscritter was on, the worst kind of clueless politician, way in over his head. He supported the bill, which put him on the right side in my view, but one could easily see that he was trying to profile himself as being "friendly to science", although he in fact understood very little of it.

    To illustrate his views, he introduced a quotation of Newton's by saying something like, "As the Great Scientist Isaac Newton once said, ...", with a bit of rhetorical flourish on the man's name.

    I was depressed. One would hope that anyone could speak of Isaac Newton without any further introduction, but clearly, this Congresscreature felt compelled to tell us that he was the "the Great Scientist". Otherwise, he ran the risk that his audience wouldn't know who in the world he was talking about.

    Why isn't there more interest in this story, you ask? Well, because quite a few people haven't the slightest clue who Newton is or what the Principia is all about. Not unless you mention "the Great Scientist".

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp