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The World of Mathematics: A Four-Volume Set Paperback – November 6, 2003
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Newman described his work as "a small library of the literature of mathematics form A'hmose the Scribe to Albert Einstein, presented with commentaries and notes". The individual articles are not abridgements, but are reprinted in their entirety. Some are short, others quite long, a few are easy reading, some are difficult, but none are overwhelming. Each article is introduced by a thoughtful, helpful commentary.
I do not systematically read section by section. I skip around. Often, after Newman introduces me to some mathematical topic, I find myself sidetracked, exploring other books and authors. But eventually I return, select another article, and begin the cycle again.
What makes Newman collection so remarkable? Great original papers, great authors, and wide ranging topics.
Imagine reading Descartes on Cartesian coordinates, Whitehead on mathematical logic, Weyl on symmetry, Dedekind on irrational numbers, Russell on number theory, Heisenberg on the uncertainty principle, Turing on computer intelligence, Boole on set theory, and Eddington on group theory. Biographical and historical articles are scattered throughout. I especially liked Bell's article Invariant Twins: Cayley and Sylvester, and The Great Mathematicians by Turnball.
In some articles noted mathematicians try to define what is mathematical thought and how a mathematician creates mathematics. Clifford writes about The Exactness of Mathematical Laws, Von Neumann on The Mathematician, Weyl on Mathematical Way of Thinking, Poincare on Mathematical Creation, Newman on Godel's Proof, and Russell and Whitehead separately offer their thoughts on mathematical creativity. And, of course, there is G. H. Hardy's remarkable essay, A Mathematician's Apology.
Newman's compilation also includes a fascinating, eclectic mix of articles like How to Hunt a Submarine, Durer as a Mathematician, A Mathematical Approach to Ethics, Geometry in the South Pacific, and The Vice of Gambling and the Virtue of Insurance.
I have had great fun wandering through Newman's four volume set. I may someday finally read the last article. If so, I expect that I will simply begin again. It would be hard to say good-bye.