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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Blurbs

As is my tendency I've been reading 3 different books at once, and as I likely won't do a full review of any of them, will just do a quickie blurb on each one now:

1. I generally enjoy Amir Aczel's volumes, though they often lack some of the depth I'd prefer, and his current work "A Strange Wilderness: the lives of the great mathematicians" is similar. He covers a great many of history's accomplished mathematicians with pithy biographical sketches. If you like biography and haven't read up much on the lives of famous mathematicians this is a fine starter book. If you've already read widely in this area, this volume may not add much to your knowledge. It isn't always clear to me why space was allotted as it was between individuals -- I thought some mathematicians deserved longer treatments, and perhaps others shorter. More troublesome to me is that Bernhard Riemann and Kurt Gödel are barely mentioned in the book (HOW could you leave them out!!?). It's a fairly quick, easy, pleasant read for those who particularly like biographical sketches, but not a volume I'd be rushing out to buy.

2) A number of books have come out in recent years covering different selections of famous or important mathematical equations; it's almost a genre unto itself. "In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 equations that changed the world" is Ian Stewart's latest effort at putting together such a compendium, and (as usual for Stewart), it is quite good. A nice (and large) selection of varied equations, important in different fields (though mostly math and physics), treated with usually interesting prose from the prolific Dr. Stewart.
 If reading the "biographies" of equations, as it were, is at least as interesting to you as reading the biographies of humans, I recommend the volume, especially as a good introduction for lay folks to the varied ideas presented.

3) Finally, and not altogether math-related, is James Gleick's "The Information." I always like reading Gleick, but am late to the table on this one, because I waited for it to appear in paperback. It was worth the wait. The first 3 or 4 chapters (100 or-so pages) seemed a bit sloggish, but after that it picks up considerably (with more mathematics tie-ins) and becomes the rich sort of a read that Gleick is known for… certainly the richest volume of the 3 I've listed here.

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