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The Mathematics of Life Paperback – January 8, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0465032402 ISBN-10: 0465032400 Edition: First Trade Paper Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465032400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465032402
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


Kirkus
“An ingenious overview of biology with emphasis on mathematical ideas—stimulating.”

New Scientist
“Stewart flexes his mathematical muscles when he explores concepts like symmetrical viruses and puzzle-solving slime moulds. As always, he explains complicated mathematical ideas brilliantly.”

The Guardian
“A timely account of why biologists and mathematicians are hooking up at last.... Stewart is Britain's most brilliant and prolific populariser of mathematics.... Mathematics of Life is dense with information, written with Stewart's characteristic lightness of touch and will please the dedicated maths reader.... [T]he book is a testament to the versatility of maths and how it is shaping our understanding of the world.”

Discover
“It is difficult to find many biologists who enjoy math, or vice versa, but British number cruncher Ian Stewart successfully crosses over. Here he argues that solving some of the biggest scientific mysteries, including life’s origins and prevalence in the universe, hinges on a union of these fields. He skillfully recasts the history of biology within a mathematical context…then applies his left-brained perspective to the hot new field of astrobiology. Bio majors: Try the book, then bite the bullet and enroll in Math 101.”

Booklist
“Though a complete understanding of how mathematics pries secrets out of nature requires long and rigorous study, Stewart conveys to general readers the fundamental axioms with lucidly accessible writing, supplemented with helpful charts and illustrations.... A rewarding adventure for the armchair scientist.”

Keith Devlin, Wall Street Journal
The Mathematics of Life is at its best in discussing the role that the discipline has played in our understanding of viruses.... Mr. Stewart’s discussion of the intersection of viruses and geometry, and other topics, is absorbing.”

Boston Globe
“Stewart revels in intellectual wanderlust, taking us from explanations of why Fibonnaci’s sequence shows up so often in nature to rather in-depth treatments of evolutionary theory to number-crunching the possibilities of life on other planets.... Stewart is great at communicating wonder, but it’s often his skepticism that makes The Mathematics of Life such an enjoyable read—you get the sense that as a man who fully grasps numbers, he doesn’t take kindly to how frequently they are abused in mainstream treatments of science.”

Science News
“In this engaging overview, a mathematician describes how the field of biomathematics is answering key questions about the natural world and the origins of life.”

Choice
“The hallmark traits of clarity and though-provoking content are as evident in The Mathematics of Life as in the author’s other writings, but the added bonus of the interrelationship with biology makes this book all the more noteworthy.... Interested readers who are not mathematics devotees will still find the book highly informative and readable, given that the work avoids formulas while illustrating math’s emerging role in the field of biology.... Highly recommended.”

About the Author

Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and active researcher at the University of Warwick. He is also a regular research visitor at the University of Houston, the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe institute. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S.

Customer Reviews

This book is not bad, but it's not a great book.
Dan
Mathematics was great for chemistry, and engineering, and physics, but if you studied biology, you could get by without being adept in math.
Rob Hardy
Ian Stewart manages to express in easy to understand language many technical issues from mathematics and biology.
Peano

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There is a famous joke, an oldie, about the farmer who hired mathematicians to help him increase his milk yield. He got their report back, and read its initial sentence: "Consider a spherical cow..." Ian Stewart quotes the joke in _The Mathematics of Life_ (Basic Books) because it illustrates how mathematicians in their ivory towers can be far removed from the world of practical and messy living stuff. Mathematics was great for chemistry, and engineering, and physics, but if you studied biology, you could get by without being adept in math. Stewart, an emeritus professor of mathematics who has written many popular books about his field of expertise, says that not only has the divide between the two fields begun to shrink, but also that the driving force for the mathematics of the next century will be biology. His book is an agreeable introduction to this new arena for mathematics, and explains, without too many scary equations or too many spherical cows, the recent biological applications of topology, knot theory, game theory, multi-dimensional geometries, and more. Of course, biologists have always used mathematics to tally up population sizes or average heights, but that is arithmetic, and as important as arithmetic is, mathematics is more than numbers - it applies to shapes, processes, structures, and patterns, the very sorts of stuff that make up biology. Stewart is a clear writer, and there is plenty of biology he has explained here, along with examples, none too deep or daunting, of how the math promotes understanding of living stuff.

Stewart begins with a wonderful example of this sort of the importance of context with an examination of the Fibonacci sequence found in plants.
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56 of 65 people found the following review helpful By S. Matthews on October 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Prof. Ian Stewart FRS is clever and well-regarded. For a long time, his book on Galois theory was on my to-read list. This book was a major disappointment. It started off, in prospect, as a possible five stars, but it rapidly slid down to two.

What are the problems? Too many to list, but here are some.

First, there is actually precious little mathematics here, esp. in the first hundred pages or so. Then the text is littered with statements that were almost literally painful to read. At one point, he observes that the number of bits required to encode the human genome is approximately the same as the capacity of a CD - thus 'we are roughly as complex as Seargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band'. This is a _completely_ content free remark, for reasons that I am sure Prof. Stewart is aware of, when he is making any effort at all. He implies that we didn't 'really' know that a reef-knot cannot be untied, until topologists managed to prove it in this century. This is a serious confusion of models and reality. It is more accurate to say that we have known, _with absolute certainty_ that you cannot untie a reef-knot with fixed ends, we juat haven't bothered to shoe-horn that knowledge into the language of algebraic topology. Presumably we didn't know until this century either (because mathematics tells us that you can) that you could take a sphere the size of a football apart, and put it together as a sphere the size of the sun?
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Format: Hardcover
*****
"Though a complete understanding of how mathematics pries secrets out of nature requires long and rigorous study, Stewart conveys to general readers the fundamental axioms with lucidly accessible writing, supplemented with helpful charts and illustrations.... A rewarding adventure for the armchair scientist." -- Booklist

The versatility of mathematical approach has proven ideal, as a vital tool, to find an intuitive solution just about every problem. Mathematics quantitatively describe everything from the shape of viruses to the structure and function of DNA, and helps to explain the evolutionary games that led to the diversity of life on Earth. Mathematics is one of the fastest propellers for advancing science, and is considered "one of the greatest creations of mankind."
Ian Stewart, Britain's most prolific popularizer of mathematics could be introducing us to a revolutionary approach to an array of bioscience subjects that may have been traditionally considered descriptive, qualitative, and dull. Through a fascinating account on the historical exploration of biology, he portrays mathematics as the 'essential tension' promising new revolutionary perspective that will advance our understanding of the mysteries of life. Such mathematical approach determine all, from the shape of a flower to symmetrical viruses. Stewart leads us to believe that nature is a lot more interesting than most people ever imagined, telling us how biology is fun, and that Japanese researchers claimed an Ig Nobel Prize for demonstrating that slime molds can solve puzzles!
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