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A History of Pi [Paperback]

Petr Beckmann
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
Price: £10.44 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Frequently Bought Together

A History of Pi + An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i [the square root of minus one] (Princeton Library Science Edition) (Princeton Science Library) + "e": The Story of a Number (Princeton Science Library)
Price For All Three: £26.46

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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press; 3rd edition edition (31 Dec 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312381859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312381851
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.5 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 274,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Documents the calculation, numerical value, and use of the ratio from 2000 B.C. to the modern computer age, detailing social conditions in eras when progress was made.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A History of Pi 21 Sep 2010
By derek a
There are three things to say about this book:
1. It is a reprint of a book first published in 1974, ie before the personal-computer age got going; it thus covers the history of pi only up to about 30 years ago. But this does not detract very much from the book as all that has happened (I think) since the advent of powerful computers is that pi has been calculated to a lot more decimal places.
2. The author - someone who has an interest in history as well as mathematics - is very polemical in his views, calling the Romans "thugs" because of their disregard for culture, and taking a hard line on the Church and Communism in relation to their lack of openness towards science and the discussion of new ideas. Readers should be prepared for more than just a mathematical treatise.
3. I am a maths graduate (of many years ago) and was able to follow most of the mathematical proofs and calculations in the book, athough it seemed to me that there were some typographical errors in the maths that at times made the logic hard to follow (or was it just me??).

Overall, though, if you want a fairly easy read of a good description of the history of the discovery of pi and the work done over the centuries trying to discern its value, this book is worth having.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How many ways can you Calculate PI ? 31 May 1998
By A Customer
Dr. Beckmann presents a good overview for the experimenter/historian on the nature of this transcendental number.From the Early Greeks to the computer age he gives a good historical example of how PI has been derived. A little lacking on the computer age, he presents a good overview for beginning students.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Dr. Petr Beckmann was never one to mince words. He quotes a biblical passage that strongly implies that pi equals 3, and while he is never disrespectful to the Bible, he does mock the tortured attempts of some fundamentalists to reconcile this passage with the actual value of pi.
He also mocks the Indiana State Legislature (which, in 1897, nearly passed a law that set the value of pi at about 9.23), and Theodore Heisel (who, in 1931, wrote a mathematical treatise that ignored 4000 years of progress in determining pi).

But he praises Archimedes and Newton, among others, for their heroic and quiet progress in determining the value and application of pi. And, sadly, he concludes that the Heisels of the world are more numerous than the Archimedes.

Great book. But it must be read with an open mind.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Slice of Pi You Can Live Without 28 Sep 1997
By A Customer
Since I'm somewhat of a fan of books that cover the history of science and math, I had to buy this one when I saw it. In the preface, the author notes that since he is neither a mathematician nor a historian he is the perfect one to write this book. It turns out that both his math and his history and leave much to be desired.
Regarding mathematical proofs, Beckmann made a concious decision to ply the middle ground between mere hand-waving and totally rigorous proofs. The end result is a scattering of proofs that are neither easy enough to simply read and understand, nor detailed enough to follow to completion.
Petr Beckmann's treatment of history gives the impression that the world has been populated by only two classes of inhabitants: the evil and barbaric (Romans, Christians, Soviets) or the enlightened (Greeks, Chinese, English). His loathing for the Romans is particularly intense, and distracting to the extreme, especially since he takes random swipes at them throughout the entire first half of the book.
There are interesting tidbits scattered throughout the book, but most of these can be gleaned from other history of math books. Much of the book is also dated, such as his treatment of the four-color problem, which was proven recently. This can be forgiven, since the book is over twenty years old, but it does reduce its value as a read even lower than its minimal initial level.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A math history book that is hard to put down. 12 May 1997
By A Customer
This book sheds a whole new light on the history of mathematics. A must read for anyone interested in math. Uses pi to hold the book from meandering through too much unrelated information. From high school age to retired, a marvelously written account of the origins of numbers. The book's best attribute is Dr. Beckman wit which keeps your interest throughout, regardless of the topic.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The thing I really liked about the book was the quite personal style of the author. This actually made the book more compelling than any strait-jacketed attempt at supposed objectivity.
Whilst some of the Mathematical examples were demanding for someone like me, I found that you could skip over the detail, having caught the gist and this didn't spoil the book at all.
The one disappointment was a secondary reference that was used that ended up saying the exact opposite to the original author/text referred to. The suggestion was that al-Ghazzali said that Science causes someone to lose their religion when in fact the original reference which I've read in both the original Arabic and its translated English from 'The Refutation of the Philosophers' actually condemns the religious ignaramouses who through their appalling insistence on ignorance become a harm for their religion and can be a means of putting rational people off from religion. The example given in the original refers to Eclipses but could equally apply to other clearly established facts.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book!
Everyone with interests in math and history should read this book.
The author has a sharp vision on things and I like that. Read more
Published on 7 July 2010 by Daniel Marivoet
3.0 out of 5 stars Calculate PI
The thing I really liked about the book was the quite personal style of the author. From the Early Greeks to the computer age he gives a good historical example of how PI has been... Read more
Published on 28 Jun 2010 by G. I. Paparides
5.0 out of 5 stars a popular discourse on the history of Pi
A book which is wonderfully well-written and can make you laugh out loud. It reflects the author's growing up in stalinist-era checkoslovakia, and his distaste for totalinarianism... Read more
Published on 25 May 2000
2.0 out of 5 stars entertaining but obnoxious
The author sounds like someone I'd love to meet at the Oak Bar for a few martinis--but over a book's length his initially amusing tantrums and diatribes about the fools of history... Read more
Published on 23 Aug 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A mathematics book for the book shelf!
I bought this book in hardcover over 20 years ago. The book has been translated into over 20 languages and has served as a stimulus and inspiration for hundreds of future... Read more
Published on 12 July 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Beckmann's Book was great
I liked A History of Pi. It showed how pi evolved into what it is today and it also contributed to the very little number of pi books available.
Published on 10 Jun 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, erudite, and as MORAL as it is LOGICAL
Read "Consilience"? So far as "Consilience" has points to make, this little book makes the same points, but makes them with biting wit-- and in less than half... Read more
Published on 6 Dec 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Sorry he's gone.
Beckmann died in 1992. I love this book. Whatever needed saying, Beckmann said it. A great engineer, a great man, a darn good writer. Read more
Published on 4 Aug 1998
1.0 out of 5 stars An irritating little book
I agree with the majority here:- there are some interesting little anecdotes. BUT it is written by a small minded person. Read more
Published on 3 Jun 1998
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