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Story of Mathematics Hardcover – Feb 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus Books (February 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847240178
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847240170
  • Product Dimensions: 26.4 x 18.8 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,057,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An interesting overview. April 1 2009
By Metallurgist - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There are several versions of this book; or at least books with the same title that are being reviewed together. The description of the book given by Amazon states that the text of the review refers to another, earlier, edition of a book with the same title. This earlier edition was written by Richard Mankiewicz, with a forward by Professor Stewart. It was published in 2001, whereas the book description lists a publication date of 2008. The one that I read was written by Ian Stewart and was published in 2008. However, it does not have the cover shown in the Amazon insert; it has the cover that was provided by a customer. I believe that the negative comments of some reviewers (small print and many pictures in place of text) refer to the 2001 Mankiewicz edition. I had no trouble with the size of the text, and I find it difficult to read books with small print. Furthermore, while there are pictures, they are not the focus in my edition and, unlike the 2001 Mankiewicz edition, none were in color. A prospective buyer should check to make sure of the edition that is being purchased. This review refers to the 2008 edition authored by Ian Stewart.

The book is an overview of the development of mathematics. It is part math, part biography and part history. It covers mathematics from the earliest ideas of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, Indians and Greeks, to the most modern ideas group theory, set theory, topology, and non-linear dynamics. Each chapter, starting with counting and numbers, is self-contained but there is a flow that relates each chapter to what has gone before and what will come next. The text is only 278 pages long, so only a brief overview of each topic can be provided. The development is generally chronological and historical and in addition to the development of the math there are capsule biographical inserts concerning the mathematicians involved with that development. Each chapter also contains a capsule summary of why this topic is important not only for the development of mathematics but also "what it does for us", so even if the reader does not completely follow the mathematics they can see why the topic is important and how it fits into the whole of mathematics.

This is a good book for advanced high school and college students who are interested in the way in which mathematics developed. Equations are provided, but are generally not derived or developed fully. The introductory chapters on numbers and the development of geometry and algebra are good supplements to what students are learning in math class, but many will likely find the latter chapters a bit too advanced. Be forewarned, however, that this is not a mathematics book in that it does not aim to teach the reader how to solve problems. The treatment is more historical and aims at describing how mathematics evolved.

Mathematics is a difficult subject to cover in a cursory manner and Professor Stewart does as good a job as any that I have read, but frankly I found that some of the latter chapters were somewhat incomprehensible. I guess this is unavoidable as there was just not enough space to include a more complete exposition of the topics. It is for this reason why I could give the book only 4 stars. Nonetheless, I did learn what the basic ideas were and why they were important, even if I could not completely follow the all mathematics. Mathematicians will likely find this book too elementary, but the historical and biographical elements will possibly interest them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A readable survey of mathematics that is popular in style without sacrificing the inclusion of formulas Nov. 15 2008
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Light mathematical history is the best phrase to describe this book; it has too much math to be considered as mere history and not enough to be described as mathematics. It begins with the earliest of representations of mathematics, which was of course numbers. After that came the geometry of area representations for land surveying and the beginning of abstraction, where the idea became the mathematical concept traded rather than physical objects.
Most of the general ideas of mathematics developed since antiquity is at least mentioned, and Stewart is to be commended for including formulas when needed. His style of exposition is effective in presenting complex ideas in a manner that makes it very readable. Any reader with knowledge at the level of high school algebra will be able to understand the fundamentals of the concept even if the particular details are beyond their grasp.
This book could also serve as a text for a college level history of mathematics class for the elementary or middle school education major. If used as a source of ideas for classroom presentation, it could also be used as a text in a history of mathematics class for the math major.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Some good, some bad March 28 2009
By sporkdude - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The book is about 20 or so chapters of around 10 dense pages each, with each chapter concentrating on a particularly portion of mathematics. The chapters are arranged somewhat chronologically while maintaining a good sense of order. Amongst each chapter, Steward describes a problem, the insights around it, the prominent figures behind it, what was accomplished, and why it is important. The chapters range from simple numbers to multi-dimensional geometry. Overall, with so much information, which is good, it was hard to caught up in the book itself. If anything, this is not a page turner, but informative.

This books is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to quality. Stewart, who seems to have a knack of presenting complex mathematics in layman terms, is very inconsistent. The beginning chapters are very slow and dull. The middle chapters get extremely complex, and if you haven't taken a mathematics class on that particular subject, be prepared to get lost. Trudging through the group theory chapter game me a headache. However, there are some extremely fascinating topics that I never considered, and Stewart does a superb job of explaining it, like the chapter about the fundamentals of mathematics near the end.

All in all, it was some chapters made me feel smarter, some chapters got me excited about mathematics, and some chapters made me feel dumber and frustrated; making it an average book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Despite production values, a good high level overview of Mathematics for the Non Mathematician Jan. 25 2009
By Jvstin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mathematician and scientist Ian Stewart writes some popular books on the subject (I keep meaning to read his annotated Flatland). The Story of Mathematics is devoted to an overview and history of Mathematics, and what it was good for in the past and what its good for now.

With lots of sidebar digressions on figures and topics, this volume reminded me, in some respects, of my beloved "The Math Book" textbook that I recently found for sale again, used and purchased. The Story of Mathematics takes on Mathematical topics of increasing complexity and difficulty. Each topic is placed in context with how and why it was invented and developed.

So the volume begins with tallies and basic number systems, showing how tallies turned into Babylonian and Egyptian number systems. We progress through basic geometry, our own number system (with sidebars on things like the Mayan and Chinese systems), trigonometry, logarithms, algebraic geometry, number theory, calculus, differential equations, and all the way up to modern chaos theory.

In less than 300 pages, this means that no topic really is done in depth, a strength and a weakness. Similarly, too, the book remains at a high level overview strictly for non-mathematicians. This is not a volume by Eli Maor! In fact, the Mathematically trained might feel this is a bit dumbed down.

So, I believe that intelligent readers who are completely math-phobic and yet have an urge to know more about how it works and where it came from (without doing any math skull sweat) will be happiest with the book. Those fully trained in Mathematics might be frustrated at some of the lack of depth in topics (and probably would be happier with a volume on a more specific subject that they are interested in).

As for myself, I learned some things about fields of mathematics of which I am not very conversant. Stewart has a relatively easy style to follow, but its nothing special. As a production value, I do mention that to keep the volume under 300 pages, the print in the book is relatively small. Still, despite all of this, I enjoyed reading Stewart's Mathematical overview.