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Mathematical Cranks (Spectrum)

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0883855072
ISBN-10: 0883855070
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Comment: Softcover. 1st ed. 1992. Overall in very good+. WE OFFER THE BEST PACKAGING, FRIENDLY REFUNDS & 33 YEARS SELLING BOOKS. Thank you.
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Editorial Reviews


'A delightful collection of true accounts of individuals who claim to have achieved the mathematically impossible ... It is hard to put down and provides topics for an unending series of interesting discussions. The organization and breadth of the book are impressive, supported by a helpful index and a list of resources that encourage further explorations. A classic.' Choice

'Dudley Underwood extracts insights from an astonishing variety of examples.' Robert Matthews, New Scientist

Book Description

A delightful collection of articles about people who claim they have achieved the mathematically impossible (squaring the circle, duplicating the cube); people who think they have done something they have not (proving Fermat's Last Theorem) and people with very eccentric views (thinking that second-order differential equations will solve all problems of economics, politics and philosophy).

Product Details

  • Series: Spectrum
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: The Mathematical Association of America (September 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0883855070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0883855072
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,491,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Underwood Dudley was born in New York City quite a number of years ago. He got bachelor's and master's degrees (mathematics) at what was then the Carnegie Institute of Technology. After working for a time for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, he gave up his promising future as an actuary to flee back to academia, attaining the Ph.D. degree (number theory) at the University of Michigan in 1965. After two years at the Ohio State University and thirty-seven at DePauw University (Greencastle, Indiana) he lay down his chalk and eraser and retired to Tallahassee, Florida, never again to grade a calculus test.

He has done quite a bit of editing in his time--the College Mathematics Journal for five years, the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal for three, the Dolciani Mathematical Expositions book series (six years), and the New Mathematical Library book series (three years). As a result he has a complete grasp of the distinction between "that" and "which" (very rare) and the conviction that no writing, including this, should appear before the public before passing through the hands, eyes, and brain of an editor. Take that, bloggers!

He believes that there is no greater achievement of the human intellect than mathematics, and that the study of mathematics provides great benefits, even to people who think that they hate it.

None of his four children or six grandchildren has entered the family business, but that's the way it goes.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In this book, math professor Underwood Dudley catalogues the characteristics and errors of mathematical cranks. These are the people, usually mathematical amateurs, who believe they have done the impossible: squared the circle, calculated a different value of pi (or in some cases, several different values), and so forth. Math has the advantage over darn near every other human system that one can absolutley prove these people are wrong, but that doesn't stop a true crank.

I am no math whiz, and a lot of this book is over my head. But I am a crank enthusiast (if you are, too, the best World Wide Web cranks can be found at Crank.net, with which I have no affiliation). What interests me most in this book, other than Dudley's enthusiastic and deft writing, are his catalogues of crank behavior -- for instance, how they can go from enthusiastic amateur to demented conspiracy theorist rather than simply admit nobody's paying attention to them because they're wrong. The math-oriented parts of the book are interesting case studies, and the crank-oriented parts have general application to all cranks, even of the non-mathematical variety. This makes for a useful and entertaining book.
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Format: Paperback
Underwood Dudly's book is great fun, especially if if you have ever tried to argue with someone impervious to reason. His very funny tales of encounters with mathematical cranks will probably sound familiar. You will also learn a lot about mathematical and scientific reasoning along with hilarious examples of how not to do mathematics. The author's points on how to identify and avoid cranks can serve readers well in all walks of life, not just mathematics.
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Format: Paperback
A mathematical proof of the impossibility of doing something does not deter some people from claiming that they have done it. Dudley labels such people as cranks, and he describes many of them in this book. While the reading is entertaining, it is also somewhat depressing, in that no amount of logic or reason can convince a crank that their work is flawed. They give so many different reasons for why their work is rejected. Unfortunately, a crank never arrives at the real reason, namely that their work is simply wrong.
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