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Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers Hardcover – 1997
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What does mathematics mean? Is it numbers or arithmetic, proofs or equations? Jan Gullberg starts his massive historical overview with some insight into why human beings find it necessary to "reckon," or count, and what math means to us. From there to the last chapter, on differential equations, is a very long, but surprisingly engrossing journey. Mathematics covers how symbolic logic fits into cultures around the world, and gives fascinating biographical tidbits on mathematicians from Archimedes to Wiles. It's a big book, copiously illustrated with goofy little line drawings and cartoon reprints. But the real appeal (at least for math buffs) lies in the scads of problems--with solutions--illustrating the concepts. It really invites readers to sit down with a cup of tea, pencil and paper, and (ahem) a calculator and start solving. Remember the first time you "got it" in math class? With Mathematics you can recapture that bliss, and maybe learn something new, too. Everyone from schoolkids to professors (and maybe even die-hard mathphobes) can find something useful, informative, or entertaining here. --Therese Littleton
From Scientific American
The book is an enthusiastic and utterly amazing popularization that promises to be in print for decades.... It is an important reference and a book that is plain fun to dip into. If a family is to have only one mathematics book on the reference shelf, then this is the one.
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Top Customer Reviews
It should be on every math major's bookshelf, and within arm's reach of every math aficionado.
The author's obcession/love of mathematics is evident in its rigorous detail.
It would be a fabulous gift for any math major or history major...even for a budding anthropologist.
I ordered this book hoping it would partially overcome my difficulty in learning math. I would say it does. The book is way too big and long to sit down and read as one would other types of books. However, it is a tremendous resource, well written and relatively easy to understand (that depends somewhat on one's math expertise). The title "Mathematics From the Birth of Numbers" describes the book exactly. It starts with, literally, the birth of numbers in "ancient" times and goes through all of the kinds of mathematics, such as number theory, calculus, geometry, etc. I recommend this book more as a reference than as a textbook or a book to read from cover to cover. For example, if you want to know something about number theory, go to that section of the book and read what you want to know. Same with other topics. Illustrations and equations are plentiful and answers to the exercises are in the back.
My only criticism which really isn't a criticism; the book is too heavy for me to sit comfortably in my recliner and read. It couldn't be any lighter in weight, though.
If you want a good history of mathematics plus explanations of most of the various mathematical disciplines, I would recommend this book.
"Mathematics..." is written at a level just right for someone who has progressed as far as calculus or college engineering math but no further. It is also nice that the myriad (albeit brief) historical references help connect the material with its initial development. Unfortunately, the lack of any contextual information (brief biographies would be welcome) make these references rather dry and unrevealing: authors, dates, and titles of publications is frequently all we get.
I have to agree, too, with the Willingboro reviewer: although this text covers a wide variety of traditional high school and early college topics, at the same time it clearly exhausts its author's knowledge of the subject and therefore cannot provide a foundation for proceeding further. It is akin to a travelogue that directs the reader along completed, well-worn paths, visiting all the conventional landmarks, without pointing out the existence of other paths, other points of interest, or taking the readers to lookout points and vistas suggesting territory remaining to be explored.
Almost all the topics covered are ancient, rarely extending beyond what was known by the middle of the 19th century. (A chapter on fractals is the only exception.) Many important and modern subjects are barely mentioned and certainly not developed beyond the limited introduction available in most high school texts: graph theory, number theory, complex analysis, algebraic geometry, functional analysis, group theory, Galois theory, differential geometry, category theory, ..., the list can go on and on. (For example, topology--a vast subject--gets less than three pages, whereas eight pages are devoted to illustrating the routine mechanics of solving euclidean triangles using trigonometry.) This is a shame, because the wealth of topics nevertheless discussed by this book provides an amazing foundation for introducing these modern ideas and pointing out their deeper implications and ramifications. As a result, mathematics comes out looking like a kind of beautiful fossil rather than an organic, evolving creature.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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