...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

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"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Sunday, March 12, 2017

3 Books In the Queue…


         


I’d actually enjoy a respite from reading… but popular math books keep showing up!  Currently in my reading queue are 3 new volumes, so 3 quick blurbs today on:

Finding Fibonacci” by Keith Devlin
Beyond Infinity”  by Eugenia Cheng
The Mathematics Lover’s Companion” by Edward Scheinerman

Regular readers here know I love Keith Devlin’s writing… BUT primarily when he’s explicating mathematics or logic. I’ve never had much interest in math history pre-19th-century, so didn't read Keith’s earlier book/biography ("A Man of Numbers") of the mathematician we know as Fibonacci. His new effort, "Finding Fibonacci," is, again more historical, biographical, and travelogue, than mathematical, so, early on (about 75 pgs. in.) it’s not particularly grabbing me. It’s even quirkier though because it’s a book about how he wrote the prior book (an odd self-referential stroke of authorship) — one can sense Keith’s own passion about the subject and the research/detective path it put him on, but you probably need more interest in math history than I have to fully appreciate it, or, if you read/enjoyed the earlier volume you'll want this follow-up (… ANYthing by Keith is worth reading, but I do find his greatest talents in translating mathematics to a general audience). Also, am happy to see Dr. Devlin is with Princeton University Press with this volume.

For whatever reason, infinity seems suddenly to be a hot topic… it’s plenty interesting of course, I just don’t know why there’s such a current spate of writing about it, but somewhere Cantor is smiling. ;)
Anyway, Eugenia Cheng’s 2nd book (after her success with “How To Bake Pi”) is “Beyond Infinity.” The early pages (I’m not far in) are pretty standard fare on the topic (i.e. chapter 2 is entirely on Hilbert’s Hotel), but Dr. Cheng is a fine writer and glancing ahead, where she gets deeper into the weeds of infinity, l anticipate the material getting more interesting, varied, and challenging along the way. There are a lot of good introductions to infinity out there (Ian Stewart has a new one out as well), and no doubt Cheng’s will take its place among that group.

The Devlin and Cheng books arrived as review copies, but a few days ago I stumbled upon a new volume, in a brick-and-mortar store, I’d NOT seen/heard any buzz about, by Johns Hopkins mathematician Edward Scheinerman, “The Mathematics Lover’s Companion.” Immediately loved the title and so far, am loving the content as well… it’s divided into 3 parts on “Number,” “Shape,” and “Uncertainty,” with bite-size writing on a wide swath of topics within each part (23 total chapters; I would almost say mini-lessons) — some topics fairly well-worn, but others less-so. The prose is excellent, terse and clear (and Scheinerman has won previous MAA awards for his writing). 
The book reminds me a bit of Strogatz’s “The Joy of X,” in its layout of successive essays, but a notch or two more advanced for the lay reader. So, especially if you enjoyed Strogatz’s work and are ready to step up for something a bit more challenging, grab this volume. I imagine even well-read math fans will find parts of the volume fresh and useful, and I also suspect it will be one of my 3 favorite books at year-end wrap-up! A very nice, exciting surprise find. As one reviewer synopsizes, An elegant sampler of many beautiful and interesting mathematical topics. This could become one of the best books available for a popular audience interested in what mathematics really is.”

Anyway, these are just quick takes, subject to change, and I’ll try to offer final opinions at some later date, but for now I especially recommend checking out the Scheinerman volume.


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