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A Strange Wilderness: The Lives of the Great Mathematicians Hardcover – October 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Amir D. Aczel is the author of a dozen nonfiction books on the subjects of science and mathematics, most of which have appeared on various bestseller lists in the United States and abroad. He has appeared on more than 50 television programs, including nationwide appearances on the History Channel, CBS Evening News, CNN, CNBC, Nightline, and on more than 200 radio programs. His science articles have been published in such major periodicals as Scientific American, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Jerusalem Post, and London Times. Aczel is a Guggenheim Fellow and a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sterling; First Edition edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402785844
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402785849
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on October 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have read a number of books by this author - some of which I found excellent while with others I was rather disappointed. But I would rate this one as one of his very best.

The book covers the period from ancient times to the present. It is divided into six main parts, each concentrating on a specific theme or period. Each such part contains either two or three chapters which, in turn, are divided into a number of subsections - each of these is entitled with the name of a particular mathematician. These subsections, which are anywhere from a page to a few pages in length, give a brief over view of the life and accomplishments of the individual that is highlighted. The author does not belabour the mathematical accomplishments with a lot of technical detail but mainly discusses the importance of these accomplishments in the history of mathematics. Also, inserted within each chapter are short sections that describe in more detail a particular issue.

The author writes, as usual, in his very friendly and chatty style. The stories are well recounted in a very lively and captivating way. The book is amply illustrated with a great many pictures and illustrative diagrams. Anyone, whether mathematically inclined or not, can enjoy this book and learn much from it. However, math buffs may get more out of it since they are more likely to understand the mathematical terms used (several of which are briefly explained by the author) as well as appreciate the complexity of some of the problems that these great mathematicians have tackled over the millennia.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bryan J. Higgs on March 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Ordinarily, I like such books, and have read quite a few of them. However, I found this one a little on the lifeless side -- too much a short description of facts which left me not much impressed. I've read quite a few books on the history of mathematics (both specific and general) that were much better than this one, so I'm trying to figure out what the difference was. [See my Listmania! list "Layman's Books on Mathematics" at http://www.amazon.com/Layman-s-Books-on-Mathematics/lm/R36EB81HBKC4CG/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_title_full ] Here are my conclusions:

1) The descriptions were a little too cold and purely informative to me. They didn't have much life to them.

2) Unlike some other reviews of this book I've read, I felt that the book lacked enough detail on the mathematics that the characters were responsible for. (Some of the other reviews said that they couldn't follow the math, which surprised me because what was covered was pretty elementary, and lacked detail.) The other books I'd read had a more balanced approach -- often alternating chapters of history with the math (albeit not in great detail -- these were all laymen's books)

3) There were some odd omissions -- the most obvious to me was Bernhard Riemann, who was mentioned but was not given the same coverage as others. Also, while the relatively recent solution of Fermat's Last Theorem was mentioned, I would have thought that it merited a little more coverage -- although perhaps Andrew Wiles, the major contributor to that solution may not yet be considered one of the great mathematicians.

4) I did like the fact that this book contained images of various kinds (one common shortcoming of such books is that they often rely too much on just text, with minimal visual aids).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Golen on May 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have never read a book on mathematicians before. Always afraid that my lack of skill in mathematics would inhibit my interest in mathematicians. I was wrong. Aczel's stories about great mathematicians are fascinating and easily comprehensible even by unwashed intellectual lowbrows like myself. Although I have limited skills in pure math, I, like many, worked with applied mathematics (statistical and analytic applications) all my life. It was wonderful to read about the real giants in the field. Pure mathematicians are an odd lot working in an exotic field of endeavor, but the practical world owes them a lot. They should be studied and exulted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on July 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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"I fell in love with the history of mathematics and the life stories of mathematicians when I took my first 'pure math' course as a mathematics undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley in the mid-1970s...

[Pursuing my love], I learned that the lives of mathematicians can at times be downright weird: they can get absurdly involved in grandiose political intrigue, become delusional, falsify documents, steal from each other, lead daring military strikes, carry on affairs, die in duels, and even perform the ultimate trick: disappearing completely off the face of the Earth so that no one could ever find them...

Researching this book has been one of the greatest adventures of my life as an author. It took me to faraway corners of the world, from the island of Samos, where Pythagoras [circa 580 to 500 BC] was born, to southern Italy, to Beijing and Delhi, and to countless locations in Europe--all in search of intricate details of the lives of our greatest mathematicians...

Our story begins around five thousand years ago in the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia."

The above extract is from the preface and introduction of this fascinating book by Amir Aczel. Aczel is a Guggenheim Fellow and a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University. He is also a prolific author of non-fiction, lecturer, and has appeared on more than fifty television programs.

I can't really add much more than what I quoted above. But I can say that this book is quite well written giving us the true stories of mathematical geniuses.
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