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Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos Paperback – January 15, 1996


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Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos + The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics (Third Edition) + Math Through the Ages: A Gentle History for Teachers and Others, Expanded Edition (Mathematical Association of America Textbooks)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (January 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385474296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385474290
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This short, delightful book is essential reading for those educated in the liberal and fine arts who have never had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of mathematics and physics. Osserman, a Stanford University professor who developed a math and physics course for humanities majors, manages to convey some of the fascination of these two fields without getting involved in technical details and without talking down to his audience. His seamless development leads the reader almost effortlessly from the early efforts of the ancients to measure the earth through the open problems in modern cosmology. Strongly recommended.
Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

With nary an equation to confuse, a Stanford math professor clearly distills for a general readership the seminal ideas behind the notion that space has curvature and is not flat as ordinary humans perceive it. Osserman has been working up to this book through his classes for humanities majors, and the result is as lucid, comprehensible, and engaging as will be found in this category of scientific writing. He begins with ancient measurements of the earth, in which Euclid's geometry figures critically, but reaches cruising speed in his presentations of the nineteenth-century German mathematicians Carl Friedrich Gauss and Georg Friedrich Riemann. They are the best-known inventors of non-Euclidean geometry, whose commonest concept is that not all angles of all triangles add up to 180; the sum depends on the curvature of the surface in question. The ramifications cascade from there, into the shape of the retroverse, as the author tags our celestial view back into time and on toward invented abstract multidimensional shapes dubbed manifolds. Libraries know the popularity of sagas on observational astronomy and particle physics, and this examination of the mathematical component, specifically the species of geometry, fits well within their compass. A warm invitation to the aesthetics of math on the largest scale. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Papanek on April 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a charming book, with a graceful pace and engaging illustrations. The transparency and accessibility of this book are a gift to the reader, who is brought through complex material in a gentle way. I suspect that technically advanced readers may find some of the material fairly elementary, but may still find pleasure in the beauty of this book.
I should here confess that as a math major I took a course from Professor Osserman on linear algebra about 30 years ago. His teaching style then mirrored his writing style in this book--calm, understated, confident.
Additionally, I probably never thanked him at the time for giving me a great math experience during that course. (For non-mathematicians who haven't had such an experience, let me assure you that there is exhilaration in struggling with an initially complicated mathematical idea that suddenly becomes crystal clear.)
So, belatedly, if you're reading this review, Professor, THANK YOU!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Gentile on September 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
I had the feeling while reading this book that Osserman had simply taken upon himself something that couldn't be done: describing the entire universe in 170 pages with sufficient clarity so that any layman could understand it.
Being one of those laymen, I must admit that I learned quite a bit from this book. Nevertheless, Osserman's jumpy writing style with frequent digressions makes for a sometimes frustrating read. I also noted a certain effort to make the "story" of the book conform to the title (which should have been something along the lines of "Curvature of the Universe").
In any case, for those (like myself) with a passive interest in cosmology and very little prior knowledge, this book is not a bad starting point. Having finished the book, I at least know where to begin looking for more information about the topic.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wischmeyer on October 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a story of shape and form. The Poetry of the Universe answers two related questions: What is the shape of the universe and what do we mean by the curvature of space?

During the great period of global exploration the Europeans placed rigorous demands on maps, demands that stretched the capabilities of mathematicians. Robert Osserman offers a striking parallel between that endeavor and our modern efforts to unravel the form and structure of the universe.

Osserman's description of the evolution of abstract geometries is fascinating. We learn about the remarkable contributions of the combined genius of Euler, Gauss, Lobachevsky, Bolyai, Riemann, Minkowski, and Einstein to our new understanding of cosmology. Gradually, Osserman brings us full circle from the problem of representing a spherical (or elliptical) earth on a Euclidian flat map to the more difficult problem of representing an expanding universe characterized as a hypersphere.

This is a good little book and I can recommend it to a wide audience. Osserman conveys the beauty and excitement of mathematics without delving into equations. In parallel, he provides expanded footnotes in an appendix for the mathematically inclined. I suggest reading the appendix after completing each chapter, mathematically inclined or not.

In keeping with his title, he offers pertinent, often poetic quotes in each chapter such as: Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare. Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. The most distinct and beautiful statement of any truth must take at last the mathematical form. (By Edna St. Vincent Millay, Albert Einstein, and Henry David Thoreau.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steen Winther on February 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is probably the best explanation of the make up of the cosmos that I have ever read. It clearly illustrates why mathematics is necessary for understanding the shape and features of the universe, and provides the reader with promising answers to age old questions about its origins and evolution. You'll also get a very interesting presentation of the most prominent mathematicians involved in this field through the ages.

Bear in mind that the book is written in 1995 and therefore somewhat outdated when it comes to more recent theories and results from actual space exploration. But it is still a great introduction to build on.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
Robert Osserman does a wonderful job of covering the evolution of Mathematics from early studies in Greece to modern day Cosmology around the world. This is a superb introduction to many of the different paths in Mathematics. Available and accessible to any level of study in math, Osserman keeps the equations down to a bare minimum and focuses more on the thought processes behind the theory as well as some of the socio-political factors surounding their introduction into the Mathematical Community. Illustrations help to explain the words and give a good mental picture of the abstract thought in the book.
Highly reccomended to anyone with an interst in Mathematics and who may be looking for a way to break into higher level subjects such as Relativity, Non-Euclidean Geometry and the Structure of the Universe.
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