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The Princeton Companion to Mathematics Hardcover – September 28, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0691118802 ISBN-10: 0691118809 Edition: 0th
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2011 Euler Book Prize, Mathematical Association of America

Honorable Mention for the 2008 PROSE Award for Single Volume Reference/Science, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

"The Princeton Companion to Mathematics makes a heroic attempt to keep [abstract concepts] to a minimum . . . and conveys the breadth, depth and diversity of mathematics. It is impressive and well written and it's good value for [the] money."--Ian Stewart, The Times

"This is a panoramic view of modern mathematics. It is tough going in some places, but much of it is surprisingly accessible. A must for budding number-crunchers."--The Economist (Best Books of 2008)

"Although the editors' original goal of text that could be understood by anyone with a good background in high school mathematics provided short-lived, this wide-ranging account should reward undergraduate and graduate students and anyone curious about math as well as help research mathematicians understand the work of their colleagues in other specialties. The editors note some advantages a carefully organized printed reference may enjoy over a collection of Web pages, and this impressive volume supports their claim."--Science

"This impressive book represents an extremely ambitious and, I might add, highly successful attempt by Timothy Gowers and his coeditors, June Barrow-Green and Imre Leader, to give a current account of the subject of mathematics. It has something for nearly everyone, from beginning students of mathematics who would like to get some sense of what the subject is all about, all the way to professional mathematicians who would like to get a better idea of what their colleagues are doing. . . . If I had to choose just one book in the world to give an interested reader some idea of the scope, goals and achievements of modern mathematics, without a doubt this would be the one. So try it. I guarantee you'll like it!"--American Scientist

"Accessible, technically precise and thorough account of all math's major aspects. Students of math will find this book a helpful reference for understanding their classes; students of everything else will find helpful guides to understanding how math describes it all."--Tom Siegfried, Science News

"Once in a while a book comes along that should be on every mathematician's bookshelf. This is such a book. Described as a 'companion', this 1000-page tome is an authoritative and informative reference work that is also highly pleasurable to dip into. Much of it can be read with benefit by undergraduate mathematicians, while there is a great deal to engage professional mathematicians of all persuasions."--Robin Wilson, London Mathematical Society

"Imagine taking an overview of elementary and advanced mathematics, a history of mathematics and mathematicians, and a mathematical encyclopedia and combining them all into one comprehensive reference book. That is what Timothy Gowers, the 1998 Fields Medal laureate, has successfully accomplished in compiling and editing The Princeton Companion to Mathematics. At more than 1,000 pages and with nearly 200 entries written by some of the leading mathematicians of our time and specialists in their fields, this book is a one-of-a-kind reference for all things mathematics."--Mathematics Teacher

"Overall [The Princeton Companion to Mathematics] is an enormous achievement for which the authors deserve to be thanked. It contains a wealth of material, much of a kind one would not find elsewhere, and can be enjoyed by readers with man different backgrounds."--Simon Donaldson, Notices of the American Mathematical Society

"This is an enormously ambitious book, full of beautiful things; I would wish to keep it on my bedside table, but that could only be possible relays, since of course it is far too large. . . . To sum up, [The Princeton Companion to Mathematics] is really excellent. I know of no book that will give a young student a better idea of what mathematics is about. I am certain that this is the only single book that is likely to tell me what my colleagues are doing."--Bryan Birch, Notices of the American Mathematical Society

"The book is so rich and yet it is well done. A rare achievement indeed!"--Gil Kalai, Notices of the American Mathematical Society

"My advice to you, reader is to buy the book, open it to a random page, read, enjoy, and be enlightened."--Richard Kenyon, Notices of the American Mathematical Society

"Massive . . . endlessly fascinating."--Gregory McNamee, Bloomsbury Review

"This volume is an enormous, far-reaching effort to survey the current landscape of (pure) mathematics. Chief editor Gowers and associate editors Barrow-Green and Leader have enlisted scores of leading mathematicians worldwide to produce a gorgeous volume of longer essays and short, specific articles that convey some of the dense fabric of ideas and techniques of modern mathematics. . . . This volume should be on the shelf of every university and public library, and of every mathematician--professional and amateur alike."--S.J. Colley, Choice

"The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is a friendly, informative reference book that attempts to explain what mathematics is about and what mathematicians do. Over 200 entries by a panel of experts span such topics as: the origins of modern mathematics; mathematical concepts; branches of mathematics; mathematicians that contributed to the present state of the discipline; theorems and problems; the influences of mathematics and some perspectives. Its presentations are selective, satisfying, and complete within themselves but not overbearingly comprehensive. Any reader from a curious high school student to an experienced mathematician seeking information on a particular mathematical subject outside his or her field will find this book useful. The writing is clear and the examples and illustrations beneficial."--Frank Swetz, Convergence

"Every research mathematician, every university student of mathematics, and every serious amateur of mathematical science should own a least one copy of The Companion. Indeed, the sheer weight of the volume suggests that it is advisable to own two: one for work and one at home. . . . Even an academic sourpuss should be pleased with the attention to detail of The Companion's publishers, editors, and authors and with many judicious decisions about the level of exposition, level of detail, what to include and what to omit, and much more--which have led to a well-integrated and highly readable volume."--Jonathan M. Borwein, SIAM Review

"Edited by Gowers, a recipient of the Fields Medal, this volume contains almost 200 entries, commissioned especially for this book from the world's leading mathematicians. It introduces basic mathematical tools and vocabulary, traces the development of modern mathematics, defines essential terms and concepts, and puts them in context. . . . Packed with information presented in an accessible style, this is an indispensable resource for undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics as well as for researchers and scholars seeking to understand areas outside their specialties."--Library Journal

"The book I'm talking about is The Princeton Companion to Mathematics. If you are in an absolute rush, the short version of my post today is, buy this book. You don't have to click on the link with my referral if you don't want to, seriously just pick up a copy of this book, I can guarantee you that it will be love at first sight. . . . The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is not only a beautiful book from an aesthetic standpoint, with its heavy, high quality pages and sturdy binding, but above all it's a monumental piece of work. I have never seen a book like this before. . . . [T]he bible of mathematics. . . . I believe this is the kind of book that will still be in use a hundred years from now."--Antonio Cangiano,

"I'm completely charmed. This is one of those books that makes you wish you had a desert island to be marooned on."--Brian Hayes,

"This has been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it! After many years of slogging through textbooks that presented too many proofs and demonstrations that were left to the student or lacking numerous intermediate steps, after encountering numerous 'introductions' that were obtuse and highly theoretical and after digesting far too many explanations with maximal equations and minimal verbiage, we arrive at the happy medium. This book is a companion in every sense of the word and a very friendly one at that. . . . For a comprehensive overview of many areas of mathematics in a readable format, there has never been anything quite like this. I would urge a trip to the local library to have a look."--John A. Wass, Scientific Computing

"This book is supremely accessible. Many in the sugar industry with a fairly good grasp of mathematics will probably not struggle with it, and will invariably marvel at its richness and diversity. [A] great companion."--International Sugar Journal

"The book contains some valuable surveys of the main branches of mathematics that are written in an accessible style. Hence, it is recommended both to students of mathematics and researchers seeking to understand areas outside their specialties."--European Mathematical Society Newsletter

From the Back Cover

"This is a wonderful book. The content is overwhelming. Every practicing mathematician, everyone who uses mathematics, and everyone who is interested in mathematics must have a copy of their own."--Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

"The Princeton Companion to Mathematics fills a vital need. It is the only book of its kind."--Victor J. Katz, professor emeritus, University of the District of Columbia

"I think that this is a wonderful book, completely different from anything that has been written before about mathematics and mathematicians."--Endre Süli, University of Oxford

"The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is a much needed--and will become a much used--reference work. In fact, it will stand alone as the reference work in mathematics."--John J. Watkins, Colorado College


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691118809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691118802
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.1 x 2.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

219 of 223 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Chow on November 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is such an extraordinary book that I am still amazed that the chief editor, Timothy Gowers, managed to pull it off. The renowned mathematician Doron Zeilberger announced that if he could take only one book with him to a desert island, it would be the Princeton Companion to Mathematics.

Why such high praise? Simply put, the PCM gives a single-volume overview of all of pure mathematics, with a clarity and coherence that cannot be found anywhere else. To be sure, there do exist several good books on the history of mathematics that give a good overview of elementary mathematics and introduce the reader to some of the great mathematicians of the past. There also exist excellent "popular science" books by writers such as Martin Gardner and Ian Stewart, that explain selected topics in advanced mathematics to the lay reader in an engaging and clear manner. And there are also encyclopedias (including Wikipedia) that delineate the main branches of mathematics and give succinct definitions of all the main concepts. But only the PCM does all of these things at once, in only a thousand pages.

The PCM is all things to all people. If your mathematical background is limited, you can still learn a great deal from the more elementary sections of the book, as well as from the biographical sketches of nearly a hundred famous mathematicians of the past. At the other end of the scale, even professional mathematicians will learn something from the articles on branches of mathematics other than their own specialty. Gowers made a systematic effort to find contributors who are not only world experts in their subject, but who write extremely well. He also forced the contributors to write in as accessible and elementary a manner as possible.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By J. Koelman on January 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Got my copy a week ago. What an exceptional book! Any of the random samples I read so far provides a informative, yet pleasant read. Gowers (Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge) did a fantastic job in editing the many articles into a coherent and surprisingly accessible overview of modern mathematics. From inception to publication of this book took Gowers and his associate editors some 6 years. The amount of editorial attention given to this publication clearly shows and translated into a book that is - unlike any other math book I know of - easy to read and of high quality.

This book provides lots of material that is of interest to non-mathematicians. As is mentioned in one of the other reviews here, this heavy volume does not contain a separate chapter on mathematical physics, yet as a physicist I found lots of material directly relevant to physics. There is a very interesting chapter on the general theory of relativity, and lots of material on quantum mechanics. Also fundamental concepts highly relevant in physics such as spherical harmonics, dynamical systems, deterministic chaotic behavior, phase transitions, Lie groups, etc. are covered in inviting shorter sections. Each of the subjects is introduced in such a way that the reader first gains an intuitive understanding of the concept, that subsequently gets deepened via a more rigorous approach.

If only there was a similar 'companion' to modern physics! (The book of Oxford's Emeritus Rouse Ball professor Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe comes close, but falls short of being truly PCM's equivalent in physics.)

If you're interested in math, don't hesitate and buy this book. (And be quick: I bought it here at Amazon for just over US$71. In the meantime, the price has increased already by more than US$5... ;-)
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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Nim Sudo on October 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Take Gowers's delightful little book, "Mathematics: a very short introduction", make it about twenty times as long, bring in a host of excellent contributors to write specialized articles, put the whole thing together very nicely, and you have the present book.

This book is not an encyclopedia, but it does offer a sweeping panorama of mathematics, written at an accessible level. It includes introductory articles on what mathematics is and basic concepts, more advanced (but still accessible) articles introducing various key concepts and areas of mathematics, articles on history of mathematics and biographies of mathematicians, descriptions of key theorems and problems, essays on the applications of mathematics, and more. There is something in here for everyone with an interest in mathematics.

As a professional mathematician, I am familiar with most of the introductory material, but I still like seeing it so nicely expressed and might use it as a teaching resource. Among the more advanced articles, there is lots of material which I feel like I "should" know, but actually don't.

The editors did an amazing job of finding really top-level people to write the specialized articles, who are both renowned experts in their areas and excellent expositors. The quality of the writing is infinitely superior to most articles in wikipedia or other online math encylopedias.

As I said, this not a comprehensive reference. The articles are introductory and designed for "bedtime reading". (Although if you read this book in bed you will probably have to sit up and put it on your lap because it is as big as a phone book.)

Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised when I received this book.
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