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Celestial Encounters

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691005454
ISBN-10: 0691005451
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Editorial Reviews


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1997

"[S]tories about the history of celestial mechanics are the subject of this delightful book. The authors interweave numerous anecdotes about the personalities involved in the discoveries with technical details of the mathematical ideas themselves. . . . a pleasant mix of things technical and things historical. . . . written in a lively and informative way."--Robert L. Devaney, Science

"This book, which should be required reading for every nonspecialist astronomer, may well be headed toward becoming a classic."--Choice

"A particular strength of Celestial Encounters is the impression, conveyed with a deft touch, that mathematics is an international and collective effort made by real people for real reasons in the real world. All the players in the drama, alive or dead, come over as human beings who happen to have a passion for mathematics and an ability to fulfill that passion. This feature alone justifies buying the book."--Ian Stewart, New Scientist

"A lively introduction to the fascinating story of celestial mechanics."--Jacques Laskar, Nature

"Throughout the book one finds a vital quality that derives from the authors' real success in presenting mathematics as a human endeavor.... A valuable and accessible contribution to the chaos literature."--June Barrow-Green, Isis

"A pleasant mix of things technical and things historical.... Written in a lively and informative way."--Robert Devaney, Science

From the Publisher

Celestial Encounters is for anyone who has ever wondered about the foundations of chaos. In 1888, the 34 year old Henri Poincare submitted a paper that was to change the course of science, but not before it underwent significant changes itself. "The Three Body Problem and the Equations of Dynamics" won a prize sponsored by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway and the journal Acta Mathematica, but after accepting the prize, Poincare found a serious mistake in his work. While correcting it, he discovered the phenomenon of chaos.

Starting with the story of Poincare's work, Florin Diacu and Philip Holmes trace the history of attempts to solve the problems of celestial mechanics first posed in Isaac Newton's Principia in 1686. In describing how mathematical rigor was brought to bear on one of our oldest fascinationsthe motions of the heavensthey introduce the people whose ideas led to the flourishing field now called nonlinear dynamics.

In presenting the modern theory of dynamical systems, the models underlying much of modern science are described pictorially, using the geometrical language invented by Poincare. More generally, the authors reflect on mathematical creativity and the roles that chance encounters, politics, and circumstance play in it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691005451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691005454
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By on September 2, 1997
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy math and astronomy-related topics and are curious about the history of some
fascinating 20th century discoveries concerning the n-body problem, this book should satisfy you. Warning: this book could also annoy you, if you
are the least bit sensitive to empty calories
such as:
"Napolean gazed deeply into Laplace's eyes...",
which liberally lard up the text.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alwyn Scott on November 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Most popular books on scientific topics are by professional writers who know how to construct interesting narratives but don't really understand the science. Thus they are overly impressed by those whom they have recently interviewed, remaining ignorant of the broad picture and history of their subject. Seldom does one come across a well-written book for the general public by scientists, but "Celestial Encounters" is an exception to this general rule.

Both of the authors (Florin Diacu and Philip Holmes) are distinguished researchers in the area of nonlinear science and also fine writers. Thus the reader is ever in good hands as the technical parts of the book are not dumbed down; the more technical sections (which can be skipped in a first reading) are correctly and carefully written in simple English. Anyone reading through this book will come away with greater understanding of the famous N-body problem of celestial mechanics - including both the history and how it fits into the fabric of modern mathematics, particularly in connection with the development of nonlinear dynamics and the modern theory of chaos.

The historical perspectives presented are particularly vivid and informative. I don't know where one would find a more interesting and better informed discussion of the curious events surrounding the award of the 1889 mathematics prize by King Oscar II of Sweden to Henri Poincaré.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Olga on April 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
The book is a great pleasure to read. The style is light and profound at the same time. It talks to a sientifically mature reader but does not sacrifice the simplicity and the elegant clarity of the exposition. History and mathematics are well balanced. What I liked, probably, the most was that the process of scientific discovery is described is highly emotional (and as a scientist I share the same sentiment). It's also nice to see that Eastern European mathematicians received a fair credit here, which does not happen too often in histories of mathematics published in the States.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had always had a mimeographed version of some chapters. For me it was nice to have seen personally some of the heros of celestial mechanics (like McGehee,Arnold and Moser). The book explains the math in a decent way. Celestial mechanics can be very technical but the underlying ideas are beautiful. Many of the results still lack simplifications allowing to be taught in detail in undergraduate courses. Moser himself for example did not give the full proof of the KAM (Kolmogorov-Arnold-Moser) theorem in his courses (at least the courses I took from him). Its technical. The book explains the results in a nice way also telling the story around the people who discovered the results.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Humberto Mejia on June 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have an engiineering degree and an inclination to study mathematics, yet the book demands a level of sophistication that is ver high (at least to me), and the book only has 1 equation!!!! I bought it thinking into would lead me by the hand into the complex land...I find myself working very hard to keep the pace
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