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5a study in mathematical thought
ByVin de Silvaon October 2, 2001
I want to add a few words to the brief comment by the reader in Monroe (who gave this book one star). I tend to agree that "Proofs and Refutations" isn't a primer in mathematical proof-writing; it's certainly not a textbook for beginning mathematicians wanting to know how to practice their craft.
However, for those readers (including beginning mathematicians) who are interested in the broader picture, who are interested in the nature of mathematical proof, then Lakatos is essential reading. The examples chosen are vivid, and there is a rich sense of historical context. The dramatised setting (with Teacher and students Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc) is handled skilfully. Now and then, a foolish-seeming comment from one of the students has a footnote tagged to it; more often than not, that student is standing in for Euler, Cauchy, Poincare or some other great mathematician from a past era, closely paraphrasing actual remarks made by them. That in some ways is the most important lesson I learned from this book; "obvious" now doesn't mean obvious then, even to the greatest intellects of the time.
Although "Proofs and Refuatations" is an easy book to begin reading, it is not an easy book per se. I have returned to it repeatedly over the last ten years, and I always learn something new. The text matures with the reader.