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Benjamin Franklin's Numbers: An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey Hardcover – November 4, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0691129563 ISBN-10: 0691129568 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (November 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691129568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691129563
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pasles, an associate professor of mathematics at Villanova, speculates gleefully on the oft-denied mathematical genius of Benjamin Franklin. The author focuses on magic squares, a type of matrix that Franklin dismissed (inaccurately) as incapable of any useful application but enjoyed playing with for almost 50 years. Not content with matrices where columns, rows and diagonals all have equal sums, Franklin created magic squares where bent diagonals and other groupings have special properties and then went on to develop even more complex magic circles, outclassing not only his contemporaries but also many modern mathematicians Drawing on Franklin's letters and journals as well as modern-day reconstructions of his library, Pasles touches on Franklin's fondness for magazines of mathematical diversions; publication of arithmetic problems in Poor Richard's Almanac; startlingly accurate projections of population growth and cost-benefit arguments against slavery. Going further afield, he suggests that only a man comfortable with numbers would refer to electrical poles as positive and negative and wonders what might have transpired had a young Franklin been introduced to Isaac Newton by a mutual acquaintance. Historians may quail at the textbook-style problems that illustrate various topics, but mathematicians will enjoy them and share Pasles's pleasure at restoring Franklin's tarnished numerological reputation. Color and b&w illus. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Pasles...speculates gleefully on the oft-denied mathematical genius of Benjamin Franklin...Drawing on Franklin's letters and journals as well as modern-day reconstructions of his library, Pasles touches on Franklin's fondness for magazines of mathematical diversions; publication of arithmetic problems in Poor Richard's Almanac; startlingly accurate projections of population growth and cost-benefit arguments against slavery."--Publisher's Weekly

"In Franklin's Numbers, a book mixing intellectual history and mathematical puzzles (with solutions appended), Paul Pasles brings out a less-celebrated sphere of Franklin's intellect. He makes the case for the founding father as a mathematician."--Jared Wunsch, Nature

"Pasles delivers surprising news to Sudoku lovers: Benjamin Franklin once shared their passion...Pasles illuminates Franklin's innovative use of mathematical logic in settling moral questions and in assessing population trends. Franklin's mathematical pursuits thus emerge as a complement to his much-lauded work in politics and science. An unexpected but welcome perspective on the genial genius of Philadelphia."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist

"There is hardly a discipline on which Franklin did not stamp his mark during the 18th century. But the role that mathematics played in his life has been overlooked, argues Paul Pasles. Franklin, for instance, was fascinated with magic squares, and this book provides plenty of background to help the reader admire his interest."--New Scientist

"[This is] a book that is an easy read for the innumerate but which also provides nourishment for those more skilled in the niceties of math...Also included are some contemporary puzzles that offer the reader the chance to contest skills with Franklin himself."--James Srodes, The Washington Times

"Making frequent use of Franklin's writings as well as mathematical brainteasers of the type that Franklin enjoyed, Benjamin Franklin's Numbers is an engaging and thoroughly unique biography of a singular figure in American history."--Ray Bert, Civil Engineering

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is written in a pleasant, conversational style and the author's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. The text is richly embroidered with colorful details, both mathematical and historical."--Eugene Boman, Convergence: A Magazine of the Mathematical Association of America

"Pasles has succeeded in writing a book dealing with mathematics that is accessible to readers at all levels, yet thoroughly referenced and scholarly enough to satisfy researchers. His endeavor was eased by the fact that the bulk of the material concerns Franklin's magic squares and circles, which only require that the reader have the ability to add. Unexpectedly, Pasles contributes much that is new; he corrects the errors of previous authors and presents new ideas through literary sleuthing and mathematical analysis."--C. Bauer, Choice

"Pasles makes a convincing case for Franklin as the last true Renaissance man in what is an entertaining and informative book that will even appeal to readers with only limited knowledge of mathematics."--Physics World

"With seven years of diligent study, by going through a vast amount of archive material, references including primary sources and books and research papers, the author has produced a carefully documented and fascinating account to substantiate the theme he makes, namely, that Franklin 'possessed a mathematical mind.'"--Man Keung Siu, Mathematical Reviews

"[Paul C. Pasles] and the publisher should . . . be commended for producing a highly aesthetically pleasing book, with a color centerpiece showing many of Franklin's beloved magic squares in their full glory."--Eli Maor, SIAM Review

"This book will appeal to readers with an interdisciplinary interest in both history and mathematics. Teachers who enjoy showing students the many ways in which they can draw on mathematics to construct logical, real-world arguments will find useful examples for the classroom. The book also includes a variety of number puzzles that can be used to challenge students."--Michelle Cirillo, Mathematics Teacher

"I found Benjamin Franklin's Numbers a delightful book. I enjoyed studying and playing with the magic squares and patterns, and I was fascinated by the biographical tidbits about Franklin. This book is very well written, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in mathematics or in Benjamin Franklin."--James V. Rauff, Mathematics and Computer Education

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If I could sit down with anyone from the past, my choice would be easy: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin would have been easy to talk to, even if he might have been a little pedantic. But he was funny, and sociable, and what a résumé he has: diplomat, printer, businessman, scientist, inventor, musician, expert chess player, essayist, autobiographer. It is hard to think of any aspect of this myriad-minded man that has not been covered by previous biographers, but they have always tended to leave out his discoveries in mathematics. Paul C. Pasles, an associate professor of mathematical sciences, has now paid tribute to those discoveries, and has uncovered more of them than any previous biographer has known. _Benjamin Franklin's Numbers: An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey_ will be a delight for Franklin fans like me, and it will provide those who are interested in number puzzles, simple to complex, with much to play with. Pasles has included puzzles in every chapter, and, don't worry, has put all the answers and explanations in an appendix. Franklin's mathematical achievements are chiefly his discoveries in magic squares, and readers will come away not only with an appreciation of his mathematical cleverness, but of the beauty of the remarkable objects he discovered.

Franklin didn't do well in math at his school, but became adept at using numbers for his printing business, and had to be able to calculate for some of the tables in his famous almanacs. He used numbers for predictions of population statistics, but the magic square was his mathematical delight.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Antonio Cangiano on March 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Most geeks admire Ben Franklin, and not only for patriotic reasons. He was a brilliant, vibrant mind who made contributions to several fields. There isn't a lack of biographies about the man. Or even good ones at that. What this short (and sweet) book does though, is to cover Franklin as a mathematician, a side of the genius that is often hidden or disputed. This hardcover focuses on Magic Squares and Franklin's contribution to this field, even though he wrongly considered them as enjoyable, but useless in practice. Benjamin Franklin's Numbers: An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey is filled with mathematical puzzles and will be a pleasure to read for those who can appreciate small challenges and the historical importance of Pasles' research.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book explains how Franklin came to some of his conclusions within the realms of math and physics, with plenty of references, while remaining extremely entertaining. It also shows a bit of a mathematical basis for Franklin's daily decision making activities. Engaging, with some math puzzles to try on your own, and inspirational. I got this book from my local library, but loved it so much I had to go buy my own copy. I would recommend downloading Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography on [...](free) in addition to reading this book, if you want to go through a whole Benjamin Franlin obsession phase.
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