II. The Law by Frederic Bastiat
III. Present at the Creation by Dean Acheson
IV. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
V. The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover
This text was given to me as a Christmas gift from my daughter-in-law who has a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics from John Hopkins University. She knew I would like it as I graduated with a B.S. in Math in 1959 and soon entered the USAF. Those were the times before Sputnik had its full effect upon the Mathematics curriculum, even though it was beginning to be felt.
I did not realize the full effect of the changes until I left the USAF, some six years later, for graduate school. There, I quickly realized that the concepts that were advanced math while I was an undergraduate had been taken into the classrooms of elementary and high schools; set theory being a good example. A graduate degree in Math was simply out of the question and I quickly changed to Statistics, and Information Systems Analysis, which is now Computer Science. But, I have maintained an interest in math, especially the history of Math.
As one reviewer has written about The Math Book, the author, “…reveals the magic and mystery behind some of the most significant mathematical milestones … beginning in 150 million B.C. and ending with the latest….”. What I really like is that the text is chronologically organized and presented along with a striking full-color image for each milestone. Even though it may seem at first to be a long catalogue of isolated concepts with little connection, it turns out they are fully linked as the great Mathematicians add to the knowledge of mankind, and build upon the work of their predecessors.
The first milestone is dated as 150 million B.C. and is the “Ant Odometer”, explaining how ants are able to travel great distances and return exactly to their nest. The last entry or milestone is dated 2007 and is the “Mathematical Universe Hypothesis” that states, “…our physical reality is a mathematical structure and that our universe…is mathematics”. All in all, there are 250 of the most intriguing milestones one can imagine generally presented in two pages each.
One of my favorites is the “Hairy Ball Theorem”; and its implication holds an answer to my life’s search stating, “… some where on the Earth’s surface... the horizontal wind speed must be zero, no matter how windy it is at other locations”. I want to find that beach in order to escape the winters of Delaware as all C-133 crew members remember how chilling the wind could be on the flight line as it rolled off the Ocean. I am experiencing those cold winds as I write this (20’ F and 12’ WC), so I am even more determined to find that sweet spot of serenity, calmness, and luxurious winter warmth that exists somewhere on this earth!
Reading about the magic of mathematics is reading about a subject that pervades our lives, in fact may be our lives, which we do not understand, but may be the way we communicate with intelligent alien races; and, that are curiosities of great value to the average reader. And, that curiosity, I would suggest, lives in all of us, and The Math Book may help satisfy our “… perpetual state of wonder about the nature of the mind, the limits of thought, and our place in this vast cosmos”.
Since there are 250 milestones in this history of mathematics and my intention is to read just a few per week, I will budget about a year to complete this particular reading. Enjoy!
39th ATS, DAFB, 1962-1965
Book Reviews to Come:
VI. Before the Dawn by Shimazaki Toson and translated by W.E. Naff
VII. Leviathan by Hobbes
VIII. The Berlin Airlift
IX. Sacred Fire