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Men of Mathematics (Touchstone Book) Paperback – October 15, 1986
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Bertrand Russell Professor Bell has done his work well....Any [one] engaged in learning mathematics will profit by reading him, since he humanizes the subject and helps to a realization of the historical environment.
The New York Times Extremely harmonious...a first text in the philosophy of mathematics....Bell's style is very enjoyable.
Nature Professor E.T. Bell has written a fascinating book. The amount of biographical details and of mathematics that he has compressed into a volume of 600 pages is extraordinary...he carries the reader along; he whets the appetite.
Bertrand RussellProfessor Bell has done his work well....Any [one] engaged in learning mathematics will profit by reading him, since he humanizes the subject and helps to a realization of the historical environment.
The New York TimesExtremely harmonious...a first text in the philosophy of mathematics....Bell's style is very enjoyable.
NatureProfessor E.T. Bell has written a fascinating book. The amount of biographical details and of mathematics that he has compressed into a volume of 600 pages is extraordinary...he carries the reader along; he whets the appetite. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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As to Bell's supposed miscues about particular instances in the lives of these men, I think we can afford to be latitudinarian as regards them. None of these errata which have so excited some of the other reviewers is of much moment when viewing the life of a particular mathematician in toto. Bell is writing a series of narrative biographies, not a dissertation.
If you were considered an undergraduate or adolescent swot in maths, the book will likely simply amaze you at what creative mathematics, as opposed to a knack for or delight in problem solving, consists of at its highest level. You will discover that you've only tasted shallow draughts of what Bell - along with Petronius and Alexander Pope - refers to as the Pierian Spring.
To give the prospective reader the flavour of Bell's pixie prose, I can't help but end by recounting Bell's comment on Napoleon's banqueting - during his ill-starred Egyptian expedition - with the famous mathematicians with whom he liked to consort on his flagship, l'Orient, where such questions as "Are the planets inhabited?" were entertained. "This suggests," Bell wryly notes, "that even at this comparatively early stage of his career Napoleon's ambitions outran Alexander's."
Don't miss this entertaining, informative book aimed at the cultured, general reader (assuming, of course, that these two adjectives do not form an oxymoron in 2010).
I agree with Jacob Bronowski's "Science and Human Values" where he points out that both poetry and mathematics have analogy as a common trait. I further agree with Jacob that while poetry can be nice and fun, mathematics is a step above. In Jacob Bronowski's "Origin of Knowledge and Imagination", he points out how we always have to figure things out from our current perspective; we didn't build a spaceship first, rocket off to some polar orbit, look down and say "Look! the planets go around the sun!" No, we had to be far more cunning. All mathematical discovery is like this; well, a lot of it; mathematics is a multi-phenomenon. But, certainly, mathematics took genius at almost every step of the way.
There was certainly history of mathematics books before E.T.Bell's "Men of Mathematics". E.T. Bell points out some. Well, any history of mathematics has to be a journey through genius. Still, E.T. Bell's book makes connections from ancient to modern mathematics. He makes observations of what modern mathematics is. In some of his descriptions, he even allows people without calculus to either learn some essential calculus or touch some advanced mathematics. People will argue it is not technical enough; yet, i found(after reading and thinking about mathematics for a long time; E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics, Development of Mathematics, Morris Kline's Mathematics in Western Culture, Mathematics:loss of Certainty, his three volume history of mathematics, John Stillwell's Mathematics and It's History, Van Der Waerden's Science Awakening; this, just the historic works), upon my first ever rereading of E.T. Bell's "Men of Mathematics", that the mathematics he does explain is not so bad.
In E.T. Bell's Development of Mathematics, he quotes someone who says, "those who originate mathematics have more interesting things to say about mathematics." I would likewise say that those who went on the adventure of mathematics had more interesting lives than not. If you are a thought adventuror, then this book is a Journey through Genius. The mathematicians will hopefully light a fire under your bee-hind(there's about a 99% chance that most readers will find themselves wondering what were they doing as children?). It might frustrate you on some of their poor life's choices; you might get pist at society. Some readers seem angry that E.T. Bell points out that some mathematicians were religious; they seem to turn it around and say that E.T. Bell said this or that. E.T. Bell in his Development of Mathematics points out he almost started an international fight because he calleda pole a russian or something like that! Boy, you'd think intellectuals reading this were gangsters and/or seven year olds. But, as E.T. Bell points out once again in his Development of Mathematics, if you thought being a mathematician was going to be an escape from petty humann problems; you have something else coming!
-The only chapter that disappointed me in my first ever rereading of his "Men of Mathematics" is Leonard Euler; fortunaitelly, he does much better job in in Development of Mathematics.
E.T. Bell not only makes connections between ancient and modern mathematics, but between mathematicians of each era. Perhaps the biggest is between Zeno, Eudoxus and Cantor/Dedekind/Weirstrass/Kronecker/Brower. His approach for the book was a good one; but, mathematics is too large for even this straight-jacket. Part 2 could be his Development of Mathematics. That doesn't mean others history of mathematics are not worth the read as well; mathematics is just too big for anybody; there hasn't even been an E.T. Bell to wright a book like this for the twentieth century!
Something I didn't fit in when making the first draft above!lol!
E.T. Bell quotes Horace:
"I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze and loftier than the pyramids reared by kings, that neither corroding rain nor the uncontrolled north wind can dash apart, nor the countless succession of years and the flight of ages. I shall not wholly die; that greater part of me shall escape Death and ever shall I grow, still fresh in the praise of posterity."