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Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers Paperback – March, 1997
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From Scientific American
Top Customer Reviews
But Gullberg does much more than just present the material. He includes the history of how - and WHY - each major mathematical innovation was developed, placing the entire subject in a human and historical context that is missing from almost any other book on any of these many topics.
I don't care how much math you know - there are almost certainly historical facts in here that you haven't encountered before. And I don't care how LITTLE math you know - you'll find this book accessible and fascinating.
The only thing I didn't care for was the silly little limericks and cartoons scattered throughout the book. Most of them weren't funny, and served only to distract the reader from the fascinating material.
This book should be read thoroughly from page 1 through page 1039, and then read over and over again, as you dip randomly into whatever chapters happen to strike your fancy at any particular time, for the rest of your life. I originally bought a paperback copy, but I soon realized that I had to have a hardcover version that will stay on my shelf until the day I die - except when it's in my lap or on my desk.
Unparalleled and irreplaceable.
Why do I like it? Here are five reasons, one for each star.
First, it has wealth of facts and formulas, and it gives you a bit of history with the material. It is nice to see where things came from. Second, if you need to look something up, this is a good place to find it. Third, if you have studied mathematics or used it, you will meet your old friends on these pages, and you will learn something new about some of them. Fourth, if you are keen about the subject, you will see interesting ways of drawing connections between various results and subjects in this book. Fifth, the author's good humor and broad culture shine on these pages so that reading this book is a pleasure.
Editorial reviewer Donald Albers got it right in his Scientific American review when he said that if you were to have just one mathematics book on your shelf, this would be the book to have. I have many mathematics books. This is one that I keep close at hand in my office.
This book can be classified in many ways. In one sense, it is a giant book of mathematics trivia - almost every major and minor aspect of mathematics is represented here in some fashion, from the explanation of cardinal and ordinal numbers to the analytic geometry, calculus, probability and statistics, and symbolic logic. These are arranged in a fairly standard progression, one that most people who have studied mathematics in school will recognise, at least up to the point that they studied.
Another classification of the book can be that of a mathematics encyclopedia. The table of contents, supplemented with the name index and the subject index in the back of the book, makes this a ready reference for short descriptions.
There are fun pieces here - for example, Gullberg derives approximate values for pi in two different scriptural texts (a passage from Kings and a passage from Nehemiah); there are mathematical jokes (yes, there are such things) and puzzles, some of which have only been recently solved (Fermat's last theorem, for example). There are historical pieces and purely mathematical pieces here, and in general the reader will learn about mathematics even when one doesn't understand fully the information being presented.
This is the one drawback of the book - it is not a mathematics textbook.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of my favorite books on the topic. The author provides a very readable presentation of the growth of mathematical tools in relation to the human thought process of solving... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Charles Burgess
5 starts is something I reserve for masterpieces.
This book is that, in that it takes me into the world of numbers as if I am exploring an underground cave with endless... Read more
I gave this book low marks not because the content is defective--I'm not qualified to judge that--but because it is a true miscellany, a mishmash collection of entries devoid of... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Riccardo
Incredible text on everything mathematics. This book was written by a physician with a passionate hobby for mathematics to aid his son in college. Read morePublished 12 months ago by aaron boutin
I worked through this book, in perhaps a years time. I spent maybe 30 minutes to an hour a day...while I ate breakfast and afterward. Read morePublished 16 months ago by SouthernWorldBrother