First Edition Of Newton's Principia Mathematica Becomes World's Most Expensive Science Book

Cambridge University also has a first edition of the book, seen here, in their library. Cambridge University Library

A first edition of one of science's most important works, Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, has sold for a whopping $3.7 million.

The book went under the hammer on December 14 at Christie’s auction house in New York for more than triple its original valuation of $1 million, meaning it's now the most expensive scientific book ever sold. It’s thought there were only around 80 continental editions ever published in 1687, as opposed to the British version of which there are a few hundred. Newton published two further editions in 1713 and 1726.   

Originally written in Latin, the seminal book laid out Newton's laws of motion, the foundation of classical mechanics, Newton's law of universal gravitation, and expanded on Kepler's laws of planetary motion. In 1747, French physicist Alexis Clairaut said the book "marked the epoch of a great revolution in physics.” Some of the claims in the Principia Mathematica have since been questioned, deconstructed, and developed. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say this is one of the most important books ever produced.

But who would buy such a thing? Or, more to the point, who has the money buy it?

Christie's didn't announce who its new owner is, although it's believed to be a private buyer. However, if there's someone with a lot of money paired with a strong admiration for science, it's a techy nerd.

“People who have big books these days maybe are the kinds of people who have made their money on the internet or the web ... If you have a few million quid to spend, why wouldn’t you buy a copy of Principia Mathematica?” Keith Moore, head of the Royal Society library, told The Guardian.

“It’s not just the history and development of science; it’s one of the greatest books ever published. It was hugely influential in terms of applying mathematics to basic physical problems,” he added.

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