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Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics

3.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226729541
ISBN-10: 0226729540
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

New York Times music critic Rothstein examines the underlying formal connections between music and math.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Rothstein, who is both a mathematician and a musician, is currently the chief music critic for the New York Times. In moving back and forth between the worlds of music and mathematics, he has frequently encountered the generally accepted notion that there are many connections between the two. This book attempts "to explain why these connections are far from accidental or incidental and why they reveal something profound about the nature of each activity." Rothstein writes for the lay reader: this decidedly nonmathematical reviewer found the examples from mathematics quite accessible, and the music discussion could be grasped even without the explanatory figures. However, each section of the book focuses mainly on one field or the other, and, for all his clarity, Rothstein does not ever really succeed in drawing them together. Still, academic and larger public libraries should have a sufficient number of patrons who share Rothstein's dual interests, and they will find much to ponder and enjoy in this book.?Martin Jenkins, Wright State Univ. Lib., Dayton, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226729540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226729541
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,226,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. James V. Blowers on November 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book has a lot of interesting information about both music and mathematics. But it seems to me to be two different books interleaved with each other in one volume. The mathematics covers factors and primes, the Golden Ratio, and infinity; none of these are related to music by the author. The music analyzes by what seems to be traditional methods musical compositions such as Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata and Chopin's Prelude in A minor Op 28 No. 2 (I call this one "The Monster"). The analysis of the latter is faulty in one respect: at the climax the author says that the chords can't be named; I can name the main chord: a D# diminished chord with a minor seventh on top; actually the piece reminds me of someone trying to be funny by ending a D major piece with a sour-note D# in the melody.
There is relationship between music and mathematics; for example, the structure of the scale and that the A of G major differs from the A in C major in just intonation by the ratio of 81/80; or the relationship of rhythm styles with numbers in binary notation. But none of this is mentioned. To me this is two separate books; interesting to read (especially on Chopin's monstrous prelude above) but still with a split identity.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read Rothstein's book several times since it was printed, and I have also used it as a text in several Honors College courses devoted to the the relationship between music and mathematics. One way of defining music is that it's a five letter word in the English language for a lot of different things that people do with patterns of sound and silence. And one way of defining mathematics is that it's an eleven letter word in the English language for a lot of different things that people do with pattern. By exploring the ways in which music and mathematics handle pattern, one is naturally pointed in other directions (weaving, art, science) that demonstrate how valuable it is to recognize and explore the inter-connectedness of apparently "different" fields. Rothstein's book is an elegant exploration of this kind of inter-connectedness. Although both musicians and mathematicians might find themselves alternately arguing with Rothstein about an issue in their own field, or befuddled because he is talking about something they do not understand, "Emblems of Mind" provides both with a thought-provoking and outstanding contribution to the literature on the topic. While other texts have tended to be so sophomoric as to be useless, Rothstein's book challenges the reader to explore more deeply a connection which seems so obvious yet amorphous when one looks at it more closely. It's unfortunate he doesn't write more about it.
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Format: Hardcover
The subject matter of this book should be a well known fact - that music and mathematics have much in common. The author's expertise in both subjects is presumably well developed and his experience as music critic of the New York Times should have endowed him with eloquence and clarity. Sadly, none of this comes through to me. The book is very heavy reading with many tortuous sentences and themes which wander all over the place. The approach taken to identifying the similarities between music and mathematics actually cause me to ask myself: "yes, but many of these characteristics could equally be applied to engineering, art, language, poetry - even crowd dynamics!" It is hard to see from his development of the subject why these factors apply exclusively to music and mathematics. Thus the esoteric similarity between musical notation and mathematical symbols is not exclusive to those disciplines. I think the author missed a wonderful opportunity to expand on a fascinating subject with insight and clarity.
I found I was unable to finish reading the book. The writing style and theme development was too daunting.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been reading this book since it was first published. The author is a mathematician and a musician. The book shows the commonality of mathematical and musical ideas. As a musician and a physicist, I have learnt a lot about the ideas which are common to physics, mathematics, and music. I would highly recommend this book to people who are interested in the connection between music and science.
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By A Customer on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
The goal of Emblems of Mind is not to answer questions and draw concrete parallels, but rather to illuminate two disciplines often poorly understood by layman. As a classically educated musician, I found that the mathematical concepts were intriguing and informative, and while the music theory was basic it was a nice refresher course. The real strength of this book though, is the questions it causes you to ask of yourself, particularly if you are musician, about the nature of and perception of art. The answers aren't in the book, but they really can't be for they will be different for everyreader. Overall the book is intriguing and I doubt that anyone will come away from it having learned nothing.
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