Isaac Newton text is the most expensive science book sold

When your writing changes humanity, it tends to command a premium price.

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Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Science texts aren't normally top earners at auctions, but Christie's just proved that there are major exceptions to this rule. The auction house has sold a first edition of Isaac Newton's 1687 masterpiece, Principia Mathematica, for just over $3.7 million -- the most expensive science book sold to date. It was originally estimated to sell for no more than $1.5 million, but its rarity likely helped drive the price up. This is a rare continental Europe edition, with only 80 copies published versus the 400 for Britain.

It's not the rarest. That honor goes to Newton's original manuscript, which the Royal Society (Newton's academic home for much of his life) is likely to keep for as long as possible. Another copy bound in similar material went for a relatively modest $2.5 million back in 2013.

To call Principia Mathematica important would be an understatement. It's the book where Newton sets out his laws of motion, including gravity. Many of the concepts outlined in the title would be cornerstones of physics for centuries (including today), and wouldn't be significantly questioned until the 20th century through relativity and quantum physics. They formed the basis of industrial breakthroughs, and helped explain or refine key astronomy concepts that we now take for granted: the elliptical orbits of planets, tidal effects and even the not-quite-spherical shape of the Earth. The very fact that you can read this article partly explains why Principia fetched a high price -- the technology you're using might not exist if it weren't for Newton's findings.

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