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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World Hardcover – Mar 13 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 13 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465029736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465029730
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 635 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #190,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Publishers Weekly

“Stewart shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported…. An entertaining and illuminating collection of curious facts and histories suitable for random dipping-in or reading straight through.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Stewart provides clear, cogent explanations of how the equations work without burdening the reader with cumbersome derivations…. He gives a fascinating explanation of how Newton’s laws, when extended to three-body problems, are still used by NASA to calculate the best route from Earth to Mars and have laid the basis for chaos theory. Throughout, Stewart’s style is felicitous.”

“Seemingly basic equations have enabled us to predict eclipses, engineer earthquake-proof buildings, and invent the refrigerator. In this lively volume, mathematician Ian Stewart delves into 17 equations that shape our daily existence, including those dreamed up by the likes of Einstein, Newton, and Erwin Schrödinger.”
“Stewart is the finest living math popularizer – a writer who can tackle eye-spraining mathematical topics approachably, and yet dazzle hard-core nerds with new and surprising information. It is hard not to get your money’s worth from him, and in a book like this he is at his best because of the very wide ground covered.”
Library Journal
“Stewart’s expertise and his well-developed style (enhanced by a nice sense of humor) make for enjoyable reading…. [A] worthwhile and entertaining book, accessible to all readers. Recommended for anyone interested in the influence of mathematics on the development of science and on the emergence of our current technology-driven society.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

“Stewart has managed to produce a remarkably readable, informative and entertaining volume on a subject about which few are as well informed as they would like to be.”

New York Journal of Books

“Stewart is a genius in the way he conveys his excitement and sense of wonder…. He has that valuable grasp of not only what it takes to make equations interesting, but also to make science cool.”


Steve Mirsky, Scientific American

“[Stewart] takes the reader on an engaging tour of vital math for a modern world…. I highly recommend Stewart’s wonderfully accessible book.”

Physics Today
In Pursuit of the Unknown is an interesting and highly entertaining book. It would make a great gift for a bright high school grandchild who has expressed interest in a technical life, or for a physicist’s own secret reading.”

About the Author

Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and active researcher at the University of Warwick. He is also a regular research visitor at the University of Houston, the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe institute. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S. He lives in Coventry, England.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a quick glance through this book will indicate, some of the equations presented are well-known and simple whereas others can look awfully intimidating. A given reader may be intimately familiar with several of these equations while at the same time be totally unaware of some of the others or their significance. The author does not provide mathematical derivations of these equations. Instead, he describes how they came about, explains their meanings and applications and then discusses their legacy. Several fields are covered in this fascinating book: physics, engineering, mathematics, statistics, information theory, chaos and economics.

The author writes very clearly and in a friendly, lively and engaging style. In some sections the author seems to assume very little or no pertinent knowledge on the part of the reader and as a result is very careful and detailed in his explanations, e.g., logarithms, calculus. In other cases, the discussions are much more challenging, and although new terms are briefly defined, the discussions may still result in some head scratching, e.g., quantum mechanics, Black-Scholes equation. Consequently, it is difficult to determine at what population this book is aimed. Science buffs may be bored by some of the more elementary discussions but find themselves more challenged by the topics on which they know very little. On the other hand, a younger (or less-informed) reader may learn quite a bit from the elementary discussions but get lost in some of the other sections.

Overall, I think that it is safe to say that this book has something for everyone. Although I did find some sections rather challenging, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wouldn't pretend to understand all the math in this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed the overall discussion. It's absolutely amazing to realize that so much of our reality can be represented in mathematical equations. It makes me wish I had paid more attention in math class!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars 71 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone who can stand a little math. Aug. 7 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The ideal reader for this book is someone who is not turned into a bowl of jello by seeing a mathematical formula and who is also a history buff. The history in question is a special kind of cultural history of western civilization. A history of neither music, nor art, nor philosophy nor literature, but a history involving math, science, engineering, technology and even investing. The author writes well and has a gift for unearthing facts of considerable human interest. For me, anyway, the book was a great read. I can imagine a curious high school student finding life-changing inspiration here.

Each chapter begins with its equation written down with each of its terms labeled as to what it means. The math of the equation is explained in a way hopefully clear to someone willing to think, whose math knowledge is at least of a high school level. Of course, if one fails to completely understand the mathematical explication, it doesn't really matter. For one can proceed to the historical significance of the equation, not only at the time of its emergence, but throughout subsequent history up to the present so that one can see its current relevance. This is essentially not a math book. The math is there to help make the history come alive.

The equations are presented in chronological order, more or less, so that the history of later equations can be enriched by what came before. The book is original because it goes beyond the usual kind of history of math, physics and engineering to show in a deeper and richer way how these subjects permeate our civilization and our culture.

My own background is in theoretical physics and I am a history buff. Interestingly, I learned things by reading this book. The author is clearly an active researcher in math and physics and throws in some provocative ideas, especially in talking about dark matter and energy.

Why did I give the book only four stars? Because I think a 5 star book should not only be a great read, but an absolute masterpiece. This book falls a little short of that.
5.0 out of 5 stars Clarity and Beauty Made Accessible June 5 2016
By chesscanoe - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If even one of these equations interests you, Ian Steward explains it clearly for the curious layman. It beats browsing the internet to piece together information that may be incomplete or even incorrect.
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful July 15 2016
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lots of food for thought. Worth a careful rereading. I have been teaching most of his equations for 30 years and I still learnt some interesting snipetts.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent June 8 2016
By Joao Gusmao Violante - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Amazing book. Should be mandatory at engineering schools so students can understand the history behind the equations they will be using for so long.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Oct. 9 2016
By dan dunifer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
good book

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