Guest Review by Janna Levin
Janna Levin is a Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Barnard College of Columbia University. She has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of space time. She is the author of the popular-science book, How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham prize. Janna was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow (2012).
I loved this beautiful book from the first page.
Mathematicians are in a peculiar predicament. Mathematical beauty is patent to them. And in the perception of that beauty is pleasure, is joy. But that pleasure is not easily shared. Mathematical beauty eludes many others, or even most others.
Steven Strogatz wants to share that joy. He sees the beauty of pi and 0 and infinity. But he doesn’t want to impose his impressions on you or to report on the view from his privileged perspective. He wants you to see it too. He doesn’t want to argue that mathematics is creative and beautiful. He wants you to experience the visceral pleasure for yourself.
To that end, he disassembles mathematics as a discipline, both feared and revered, and reassembles mathematics as a world, both accessible and magical.
If you have never braved this grand world, put away your math anxiety, your preconceptions. This book is the most welcoming entree to mathematical thinking that I know of.
If you have braved this grand world, you will find a collection of gems, new ways of inhabiting the domain. Strogatz links historical anecdotes to new insights, as though the math itself is sculptural, composed of forms that are simultaneously familiar and ethereal. The logic seems effortless so that each module snaps into its complement with a gratifying click.
This book is a rebuttal to the accusation that mathematical abstraction is cold or inhuman. Mathematics is no more intrinsically cold or inhuman than language. And Strogatz lends a warmth and humanity to both.
The Joy of x is, well, a joy.