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The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path from Antiquity to Outer Space Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (April 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716316
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Ghost in the Matrix on September 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For anyone who has an interest in how Pythagoras affected the Western World, this is definitely a book to have. I've been studying Pythagoras for a few years, and most of the information that Ferguson points out is information that I had to gather piece by piece from separate sources. So it's nice to have one consolidating source with which to corroborate my own research. The book also avoids any of the flighty influences that have been heaped on Pythagoras, choosing instead to take what usually is an even road right down the middle. Most of the time, at least. When Ferguson has to inevitably address the more controversial topics about The West and parity of credit with The Rest, she veers of the road, with her compass pointing her West. For instance, Pythagoras -- like the Egyptians -- has virtually no surviving records of his mathematics. He never wrote anything down, and forbid his followers to do otherwise. Our esteem for the phantom mathematics of both Pythagoras and the Egyptians, come from words written by later Greek enthusiasts. Ferguson, like most Western educators, seem to take these enthusiasts at their word when heaping praises upon Pythagoras, but lose confidence as the same enthusiasts credit the Egyptians with many of his ideas. Ferguson even attempts to build a historical case against claims that Pythagoras spent anytime abroad long enough to learn anything worthwhile. It's a feeble attempt since, any "historical evidence" is based on a man who is mostly myth and legend.

To her credit she doesn't belabor any of her counter-points, choosing instead to side-step them and stay on the path of following the domino's as they fall forward in time.

For readers who want to keep going in their study of Pythagoras, I'd strongly recommend "The Pythagorean Sourcebook.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Michael Sherbon on August 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the title says, this is a book about the "Music" of Pythagoras; and is concerned with the biographical, musical, and philosophical aspects of the Pythagoreans. If one is looking for a more mathematical treatment, see Maor's "The Pythagorean Theorem." A few of the chapter subtitles reveal the tone of the book, "At the hinge of legend and history," "All things known have number," "Plato's Search for Pythagoras," "Wherein Nature shows herself most excellent and complete," "'While the morning stars sang together': Johannes Kepler," and "The Labyrinths of Simplicity."

The reading was a little slow going midway, addressing the weight of previous scholarship. One senses an extra effort to be fair-minded, but the upside result of this deliberation was a more intense focus on what is essential and relevant about Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans today. This carries us far beyond the "series of facts" mentioned by the editorial review from Publishers Weekly. The last few chapters are the best, written with wit and insight. Pythagoras appears through the contrasting viewpoints, questions, and speculations by musician and author Kitty Ferguson. Arthur Koestler sums it up with a quote about the Pythagorean vision, "Cosmic wonder and aesthetic delight no longer live apart from the exercise of reason."

Some mathematicians tend to write dismissive works such as Bell's "The Magic of Numbers" or Dudley's "Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought." And some philosophers tend to be overly critical, e.g. Bertrand Russell. It is among musicians where you generally find the true spirit of Pythagoras, and the in-depth research of the code mentioned in the subtitle.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Twin Rivers on January 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kitty Ferguson is a wonderful writer who tackles the mysterious Pythagoras, his concept of the Music of the Spheres and shows how his discovery of the musical overtone series is a part of everything that we have and everything that we do. I highly recommend this book to not only musicians, but to everyone!
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J. Beach on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Rather than begin her investigation with a historicist assessment of the non-existent facts, Ferguson holds fast to the reality of Pythagoras, that is, his legacy. In a field where reasoned conjecture is unavoidable, Kitty Ferguson presents a balanced view of the evidence. She integrates the findings of recent classical scholarship, such as Kahn (2001) and Burkert (1972), and manages to escape the dogmatism that normally surrounds academic commnetary on Pythagoras. A remarkable aachievement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sev on August 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Excellent book and very great insight on the history and speculation that surrounded the Pythagoreans. If you are looking for what exactly pythagoras and his followers were toeing around then you should read this book.
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