Newton’s “Shoulders of Giants” comment, made in a letter to Hooke during one of their attempts at reconciliation, has been interpreted in all manner of ways. To all appearances, it was Newton attempting to give Hooke credit, along with other greats mentioned in the letter, for the work he had done, and recognition for how it had helped Newton himself. But Newton detractors believe that he couldn’t have been that considerate of a rival, and say that the tone is, at best, condescending, and at worst is a direct insult, given that Hooke’s twisted spine made him of a diminutive stature, so that any phrase about “giants” might seem deliberately antagonizing.
I’m willing to give Newton the benefit of the doubt here – that he thought Hooke had some good ideas, but knew that his grasp of mathematics was several orders of magnitude greater than Hooke’s, giving him certain insights that couldn’t be entirely ignored, and that he had to find a way to say all of that diplomatically. The “Shoulders of Giants” letter does that about as well as anybody could, and remarkably well considering Newton’s general temperament.
– Count Dolby von Luckner