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King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 19, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
During the latter half of the 20th century, geometry largely fell out of favor within the mathematical community. As Canadian journalist Roberts so well describes in her first book, Donald Coxeter (1907–2003), a University of Toronto mathematician, almost singlehandedly preserved and advanced the discipline through hard work and acute insights. His impact has been felt in a wide variety of fields and acknowledged by the likes of Buckminster Fuller and M.C. Escher. Coxeter also helped transform mathematics education to bring geometry back into the mainstream. This change is critical because, as Roberts explains, a robust understanding of geometry is essential for progress in disciplines from crystallography to cosmology, and from video graphics to immunology. Given Coxeter's long life and career, his biography, in large part, tells the story of mathematics in the 20th century as well as a human portrait of a man who—despite his royal title—was a "humble, hands-on geometer." Roberts, who won a National Magazine Award for a Toronto Life profile of Coxeter, puts most of the technical material in appendixes, so the text is readily accessible to a general audience. 70 b&w photos and diagrams. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The mathematics of shape and space, geometry was not professionally hip during the career of H. S. M. Coxeter (1907-2003). As Roberts elaborates in this warm but not uncritical portrait, the visual and intuitive aspects of geometry did not attract a field headed in more abstract directions. By the 1950s, a group of French mathematicians mounted the barricades against geometry under the slogan "Death to triangles!" Coxeter took notice but no heed of the radicals, content with his fertile imagination that yielded new geometrical papers up to his nineties. Though keeping geometry vibrant was not Coxeter's intent, it was the effect as, over time, his discoveries came to be useful to architect Buckminster Fuller, string theorists, and Godel, Escher, Bach (1979) author Douglas Hofstadter, who contributes a preface. Roberts accessibly explains the cruxes of Coxeter's discoveries and his place in mathematics history, while her narrative of Coxeter's personal life depicts an aloof but amiable character a bit deficient in the parenting department. With Coxeter appraised by peers as a modern Euclid, Roberts' biography bears inclusion in the popular mathematics collection. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
His work begins with the narrative and not the Forward.
Like many biographies of mathematicians, the books errs a little on the side of excessive hero worship, and as such it gives a somewhat simplistic and distorted view of Coxeter's contributions to mathematics and his status in the mathematical community. In particular, the supposed opposition between Coxeter and Bourbaki really misses the mark; and the portrayal of Jean Dieudonné, a truly inspirational intellectual, is very shabby.
While the book isn't a scholarly work, it is nevertheless very well documented. The book has lots of interesting information, particularly on Coxeter's early years, and his connections with Buckminister Fuller, and Escher. And it contains interesting interviews with numerous mathematicians. Above all, the book is well written and entertaining. Well worth the read.
One theme that occurs again and again throughout the book is that Coxeter's work was always characterized by his excellent taste, his sense of beauty, and the exquisite simplicity of his mathematics. I hope that anyone who reads this book will run out and get copies of Coxeter's three wonderful books: Introduction to Geometry (2nd edition 1989), Regular Polytopes( 1973 ), and Geometry Revisited ( 1967 ) (co-authored with Samuel Grietzer ) . Finally, the author has shown how Coxeter's efforts have helped rekindle people's interest in geometry. Many prominent people in the mathematics community, such as Douglas Hofstadter and John Conway, have been inspired by Coxeter's work and are helping to revive interest in this beautiful subject. This is a book that should be read by everyone who teaches geometry and by anyone who has any interest in the way in which some of the most elegant work in mathematics during the last century evolved.
Siobhan Roberts has been working with members of the York University Mathematics Department to put together a web site for the book. The site is still under construction but an early version can be found at [...]
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