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Mathematics: The Science of Patterns: The Search for Order in Life, Mind and the Universe (Scientific American Paperback Library) Paperback – 1997

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Product Details

  • Series: Scientific American Paperback Library
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Scientific American Library; 1st edition (1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716760223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716760221
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #952,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A book such as this belongs in the personal library of everyone interested in learning about some of the most subtle and profound works of the human spirit. -- American Scientist, July/August 1995

To most people, mathematics means working with numbers. But as Keith Devlin shows in Mathematics: The Science of Patterns, this definition has been out of date for nearly 2,500 years. Mathematicians now see their work as the study of patterns real or imagined, visual or mental, arising from the natural world or from within the human mind. Using this basic definition as his central theme, Devlin explores the patterns of counting, measuring, reasoning, motion, shape, position, and prediction, revealing the powerful influence mathematics has over our perception of reality. Interweaving historical highlights and current developments, and using a minimum of formulas, Devlin celebrates the precision, purity, and elegance of mathematics. 150 illustrations. -- Book Description

About the Author

Keith Devlin is Dean of the School of Science at Saint Mary's College of California and Senior Researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information. A key participant in the six-part PBS television series "Life by the Numbers," he is the author of Life by the Numbers; Goodbye, Descartes; Logic and Information; Mathematics: The New Golden Age; and InfoSense: Turning Information into Knowledge.

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle":

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Mike Christie on December 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Keith Devlin is one of the best popular mathematics writers around, and this is one of his best works. The six chapters cover number theory, set theory, calculus, group theory and topology; but to state it baldly like this is to miss the main value of this seductively illustrated book. Devlin titles his chapters innocuously--"Shape", or "Position"--and the initial discussion, couched generally in English, not mathematics, is so clear that a math-phobic can understand it. By the end of each chapter a great deal of fascinating mathematics has been described, and in some cases the formal basis is sketched--but the emphasis is always on narration, and a lay reader who doesn't even want to understand mathematics can still read this and get a sense of the dramatic history of mathematics. And of the dramatis personae, too; one nice feature is the large number of good pictures of mathematicians, including several more recent figures such as Ribet and Thurston.
Devlin states at the end that he decided to exclude many areas of mathematics in order to focus more effectively on what he did cover. As a result there is little or no coverage of chaos theory, game theory, catastrophe theory, or a long list of other topics. The fact is there will always be holes in a book this size--mathematics has expanded so much in the last hundred years that even a book ten times this size could barely survey it. The decision to focus was a good one, and the subjects chosen are good: the truly exciting stories are here: Archimedes, Fermat, Gauss, Galois, Riemann, Wiles, and many more.
The illustrations deserve an extra comment. I've already mentioned the pictures of mathematicians. There are good diagrams, of the quality you'd expect from Scientific American.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1997
Format: Paperback
This book is a brilliant example of mathematics at it's best. It is from Scientific American, so you know you can trust it. And it is written at an understandable level, quite a feat for many very complex topics. The book features incredible illustrations, every concept is laid out in a colorful image. If you like the works of M.C. Escher, you will like this book. It has a lot of substance to it, and it will keep you busy thinking for a long time, and that's time well spent
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This marvelous book to explains to non-mathematicians the joy, beauty and power of mathematics. Each topic is presented in an original manner with alot of colorful illustrations to delight the eye and mind. Devlin shows how mathematical thinking is critical to our exploration of the world around us. This is one my top ten of all time list
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Format: Paperback
When I teach a course entitled "Fundamentals of Arithmetic and Logic" I constantly emphasize the fact that the basics of mathematics is all about the use of more sophisticated and abstract patterns. For example, I use the following argument to demonstrate why the commutative law of addition holds:

1) Positive integers can be considered shorthand representations for piles of sticks.
2) If you have two piles of sticks, which pile you move on top of the other has no affect on the number of sticks you have.

While this is simplistic, the students find it easy to understand and they do remember it when we move on to other sets of numbers such as the rationals and the reals.
In this book, Devlin does an excellent job of taking similar, simple concepts and then abstracting it to an initial general pattern. From this pattern, he then expands it out to more generalized patterns. This is the essence of mathematics and in my experience, one that students find easier to follow when learning. Humans naturally carry out inductive reasoning, taking distinct yet similar experiences and reaching generalized conclusions. In fact, it can be argued that such activities are a signature characteristic of intelligence.
Devlin cites many examples of fundamental mathematical concepts that are the basis of mathematics. I try to include as many of them as possible in my basic math courses, because in my opinion together they form the best way for people to learn mathematics. It is natural and consistent with how humans do a large percentage of their learning.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book by Keith Devlin is an enjoyable survey for the general reader with a serious interest in mathematics. The presentation is conceptual and there's very little formalism, but Devlin still manages to go into meaningful depth on many topics, so some readers may find portions of the book somewhat challenging. The text is acccompanied by abundant and excellent color graphics.

Devlin at least touches on most of the main areas of mathematics, such as number theory, algebra, logic, set theory, series, functions, calculus, differential equations, geometry, group theory, and topology, but of course this also leaves out areas such as probability, statistics, computational complexity, optimization, nonlinear dynamics, and game theory. But choices have to made in a book of this size, and I think Devlin's tradeoff between breadth and depth is good.

The book gives the reader a meaningful sense of the beauty, power, and mystery of mathematics, so I highly recommend it to people looking for this sort of thing. Just keep in mind that this isn't a textbook, so the book is oriented towards showing the big picture rather than teaching details of mathematics.

Suggested further reading:

1089 and All That - A Journey into Mathematics
Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction
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