From Publishers Weekly
The task Ferguson (Tycho & Kepler
) takes on is formidable: to describe not only the ancient Greek mathematician and mystic Pythagoras, but also the entire sweep of the Pythagorean legacy, from his time to ours. Even if the book's subtitle is never quite justified, she has largely succeeded. This chatty and readable account bites off great chunks of history and science, from Platonists to string theory. No matter how engaging, however, the book still reads more like a series of facts than a coherent narrative. Best when she comes on like a good friend bursting with some amazing thing she can't wait to share (the passages on Bertrand Russell are particularly sharp and funny), Ferguson has a tendency to punt when a concept becomes difficult to explain; rather than delve into a piece of ancient geometry called the Delian problem, she says, [a] lengthy text is needed to understand it. Ferguson concludes with banal generalizations about faith versus science. Still, the book is winning, accessible and intermittently fascinating. B&w illus. (Apr.)
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The mystic Pythagoreans cast a long shadow through mathematical history. Mining commentary offered seemingly every century since Pythagoras lived, from about 570 to 500 BCE, science writer Ferguson acknowledges the fragmentary nature of evidence about the sage himself, but, having hit the books and visited Pythagoras’ traditional places of philosophizing (Samos and Croton in Italy), she successfully re-creates the Greek intellectual world in which Pythagoras and his secretive acolytes flourished. Discovering the orderly power of numbers, the Pythagorean project to equate mathematics with the cosmos explains its immortal allure. The beauty of Ferguson’s exploration is her expression of this seduction through time and civilizations up to the scientific present. Evoking Pythagoras’ pull on philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell, Ferguson shows how Pythagorean thought fascinated and even frightened great minds through the ages. The original Pythagoreans excited great hostility, and Russell was no fan either. A lively narrative and a bounty of information make Ferguson a must in popular mathematics. --Gilbert Taylor