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The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities Hardcover – Aug 11 1994


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (Aug. 11 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471536563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471536567
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 17 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,034,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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First Sentence
For each of us, mathematics begins with arithmetic, and so does this book. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William on Feb. 23 2002
Format: Paperback
William Dunham's work is of the highest caliber. He not only knows the techniques of writing and making the best use of language but he also knows the math without question. The book is extremely well-organized with a reasonable number of math examples but not so many as to "clog" the flow of the writing and the stories about the discoverers of the great math sequences. This book is, I think, very much worth the price being asked. Very enjoyable reading and one can even use it for study if necessary, such as when writing a thesis.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By "chandp" on Sept. 29 2001
Format: Paperback
As the book's subtitle suggests, it is a journey through some of the world's greatest mathematical achievements. It is a collection of quasi-independent essays, loosely patterned after children's ABC picture books.
For me there were two things that made this book a joy to read. One was that, as the preface states, "each chapter provides a strong dose of history." This way each topic was considered in some human context that revealed just how remarkable its development was. The other trait I liked was that while each chapter followed the same basic formula, i.e., some history and then some math, no two chapters were presented in the same way. Thus, Dr. Dunham was able to avoid predictability.
Though the mathematics in this book was not terribly challenging, the reader should be fairly mathematically inclined. The historical periods covered were weighted in favor of the classical Greeks and the 17th century Europeans, and the corresponding developments paralleled current curricula through lower division college math courses.
On the minus side, I would like to have seen a bibliography in addition to the notes at the back of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By unraveler on Aug. 30 2001
Format: Hardcover
Dunham cites John Locke's opinion of math: "Mathematical proofs, like diamonds, are hard as well as clear" (page 115). The books presents a number of such hard and clear proofs. Dunham's facility as a writer makes this book enjoyable and creates the kind of historical context necessary to appreciate the importance of mathematical achievements. The book is erudite, educational, and enjoyable.
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By A Customer on Oct. 10 2003
Format: Paperback
Excellent book that gives us a synopsis of the history of maths from early days. The only criticism I found (and no doubt other readers and the author) is that by virtue of the title, we are limited to one piece as per each letter of the alphabet. I personally would have liked to see the Z chapter written on Zero.
That apart, quite an entertaining read and highly recommended. Dunham should write some more.
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Format: Paperback
This book is perhaps the most entertaining popularization I ever came across.The book uses a minimum of mathematical technics to explain a lot of interesting problems and the genius of the men who first solved them.
Although the mathematical required is minimun , this is not a book for the complete mathematical illiterated reader
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, one wishes that the cardinality of the English alphabet was much larger. That way, there would have been more letters and hence more chapters. Each of the twenty-five chapters deals with a theme that begins with a letter of the alphabet (X- Y plane is one chapter). Some poetic license is taken here. For example, the K chapter has the title Knighted Newton, but that is just part of the fun.
The author takes an approach that differs from most popular expositions in that there is a good deal of emphasis on the personalities (sometimes cantankerous) of the characters. Mathematicians are often portrayed as brilliant air heads ignorant of the ways of humanity, but here they have all of the human foibles. It is sadly true that intellectual battles are among the most viscous of all. The cross-channel dispute over the origins of calculus lasted for decades and was extremely acrimonious. It took less time for nations to kiss and make up after wars that killed millions of people than it did for the mathematical communities of Britain and France to "resolve" the priority dispute between Newton and Liebniz.
Familial rivalry reached extreme heights (lows) in the Bernoulli family, as at times solving was placed in second position behind squabbling. However, many of the personalities were quite ordinary . Pierre Fermat was in many ways an ordinary member of the French bureaucracy whose life outside mathematics seems to have been quite dull. The most prolific mathematician of all time, Leonhard Euler, was a quite likable father of many children who managed to perform superb mathematics even after going blind.
There is a slithering humorous vein coursing throughout the book, occasionally good but most often a member of the groaner set.
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Format: Paperback
In this follow-on to his excellent "Journey Through Genius", William Dunham once again breathes life into a variety of mathematical topics. Whereas "Journey" was arranged around 12 great mathematical theorems, this book is arranged around the 26 letters of the alphabet. Some chapters cover the work of individuals (e.g., "Euler", "Knighted Newton", "Lost Leibniz", and "Russell's Paradox"), while others describe important mathematical results (e.g., "Isoperimetric Problem", "Spherical Surface", and "Trisection"). Still others, such as "Mathematical Personality" and "Where are the Women?", address social aspects of the field.
As in the previous book, Dunham's descriptions are entertaining and enlightening. The main difference is that this book has broader coverage. As a result, it tends to omit more of the proofs, which I found disappointing, but perhaps that will make it of interest to a wider audience. For people with a deeper interest in mathematics, I recommend you read either "Journey Through Genius" or "Euler: The Master of Us All", another Dunham masterpiece that includes detailed proofs throughout.
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