Jason Socrates Bardi’s The Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time describes the “priority dispute” between Britain’s favorite scientist Isaac Newton and German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz over credit for the invention of differential and integral (infinitesimal) calculus.
Newton developed his “method of fluxions and fluents” (geometric calculus) in 1666 but chose not to publish his work and so expose himself to the rigorous scrutiny involved. Leibniz developed an alternate approach with superior notation (differential calculus) beginning in 1674 and published it in 1684. Initially, the minimal interaction between the two was tentative, cordial and appreciative of the other’s work. However, when Leibniz implied anonymously but transparently that Newton had taken credit for some of Leibniz’s work, Newton employed the wide range of resources at his disposal as Britain’s pre-eminent intellectual–primarily the Royal Society, of which he was president–to turn the tables and accuse Leibniz of plagiarism instead. Newton’s prominence helped him gain the upper hand in the debate in the near term–certainly in Great Britain–but fortunately, for history’s sake, both are now universally given credit for the original aspects of their work, and each is recognized for his contribution to the foundations of calculus.