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The History of the Calculus and Its Conceptual Development (Dover Books on Mathematics) Paperback – 1 Dec 1959

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60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
What, calculus is boring? Never! 23 Oct. 2003
By V. N. Dvornychenko - Published on
Format: Paperback
Most of us got our first glimpse of the fascinating history behind the calculus in first-year calculus. That is, we did if we were lucky -- for the fast pace in acquiring basic calculus skills leaves little extra time. Perhaps we managed to learn that Newton and Leibnitz are regarded co-discoverers of the calculus, but that their splendid contributions were marred by a bitter - at times positively ugly - rivalry. We may also have learned something about their precursors, for example Descartes, Fermat and Cavalieri.
If these glimpses left a taste for more, Boyer's "The History of the Calculus and Its Conceptual Development" is just the book. Boyer begins by tracing the calculus roots back to Ancient Greece. During this period two figures emerge preeminent: Eudoxus and Archimedes. Archimedes was a pioneer whom many consider the "grandfather" of calculus. But lacking modern notation he was limited in how far he could go.
The role played by Eudoxus is more ambiguous. He represents that vein of mathematics which treats "infinity" with the greatest caution - if not abhorrence. Although magnitudes are allowed to become arbitrarily large, they can never actually become infinite. This has given rise to two schools of thought: 1) those that consider a circle to be a polygon of infinite number of sides (completed infinity), and 2) those that allow that a circle can be approximated arbitrarily closely by means of polygons, but disallow this process ever being completed (incomplete infinity or "exhaustion" method). Both schools remain with us to the present.
Their relevance to calculus is this: the first gave rise to "infinitesimals" (infinitely small quantities); the second to the "limit" or "epsilon-delta" approach.
In chapters II and IV Boyer discusses the contributions of the precursors of Newton and Leibnitz. These include Occam, Oresme, Stevin, Kepler, Galileo, Cavalieri, Torricelli, Roberval, Pascal, Fermat, Descartes, Wallis, and Barrow. The tremendous contributions of Descartes are well known. Fermat came very close to anticipating Newton and Leibnitz. Barrow is important in that he was the mentor of Newton.
Chapter V deals with the works of Newton and Leibnitz, as well as their monumental feud. During this feud Newton often exhibited a cruel and vindictive streak. (There are those who think this aspect of his personality was a source of his power. Others, following Freud, attribute his powers to sexual sublimation. He never married.)
Chapter VI deals with the period of rapid development which followed after the methods of Newton and Leibnitz became widely known. As Newton was the more secretive, the methods and notation of Leibnitz gained the upper hand. The great luminaries of this period were the Bernoullis, Euler, Lagrange and Laplace. Benjamin Robins carried on the work of Newton in his home country, using Newton's notation and methods. However, this increasingly became a rearguard action. During this phase technique progressed at a tremendous rate, but the logical foundations of the calculus remained shaky. Many of these pioneers thought in term of infinitesimals (a type of completed infinity).
Chapter VII deals with the revolution that took place from approximately 1820 to 1870. During this time the foundations of the calculus were completely recast and put on a rigorous basis. The principal names associated with this phase are Cauchy, Riemann and Weierstrass. The results of this revolution were that "infinitesimals" were discarded. These were replaced by the now-familiar epsilon-delta methodology (limits) - a complete triumph for the followers of Eudoxus!
In chapter VIII Boyer seems to express the opinion that with the triumph of the epsilon-delta method the evolution of calculus has been completed. One cannot help but harbor a suspicion that this triumph is ephemeral. There are several reasons for this. Most beginning calculus student instinctively dislike the epsilon-delta formulation as something artificial. Maybe they are right. Just as the method of Eudoxus in geometry was largely made irrelevant by the discovery of irrational numbers, so one feels there may be something "lurking out there" which will "blow away" the deltas and epsilons. In fact, recent research in "non-standard analysis" seems to have rehabilitated infinitesimals so some degree. Finally, it is of great interest that the maximum rate of progress was during the period when infinitesimals (completed infinity) were allowed. Using apparently fallacious methods these pioneers obtained profound results - and rarely made mistakes!
In a lighter vein, an apparently serious problem with infinitesimals is that there appears to be a need for an unending chain of these: first-order infinitesimals, second-order infinitesimals, etc. Between every two "ordinary" numbers (finite magnitudes) lie infinitely many first-order infinitesimals. But, between any two of these lies an infinity of second-order infinitesimals, and so on. This endless chain brings to mind the following jingle: Big fleas have little fleas/ Upon their back to bite 'em /And little fleas have lesser fleas / And so ad infinitum. / Ogden Nash
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Unique Work Containing the Development of The Calculus 5 Aug. 2000
By Kari Christopher Seppala - Published on
Format: Paperback
Are you interested in the historical and philosophical development of the calculus? If so, then purchase this book immediately. In it, Boyer attempts to "fully counteract the impression of laymen, and of many mathematicians, that the great achievements of mathematics were formulated from the beginning in final form" (Boyer Back Cover). To do so, Boyer separates chapters into periods according to their conceptual importance. For example, the book begins with an analysis of Pre-Hellenic and Greek contributions, and ends with the nineteenth century's "Rigorous Formulation" of limit principles (Table of Contents). Throughout the text, the philosophical and religious ideas that impeded the progress of the calculus are thoroughly analyzed. Boyer's extensive and frequent references are of immeasurable help to readers, allowing them to consider the sources of Boyer's cornucopia of ideas. Boyer's eloquence and terseness effectively communicate the deepest of topics. Do not settle for the history of the calculus given by standard histories of mathematics because they have not paralleled, and most likely will not parallel the depth of Boyer's treatment.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The history of an amazing and extremely useful idea 17 Nov. 2002
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on
Format: Paperback
Since Boyer writes from the perspective of a math professor in the thirties and forties, some of his style is dated. Nevertheless, his content is not and remains just as accurate as it was when first written. There are few mathematical tools that are more useful than the calculus and yet it is based on several abstractions that are never achieved. However, we act as if it they are, manipulating limits as if they were whole numbers and manipulating infinities as if they are real objects.
The original ideas that began the development of the calculus are very old, the first known exposition of the problems of limits is the well known paradox proposed by Zeno, which dates back to ancient Greece. Zeno's arguments involving the Tortoise and Achilles still serve as intellectual fodder for many a philosophical debate. Therefore, the second chapter deals with the mathematics of antiquity that began the long intellectual journey towards the dual creation of calculus by Newton and Liebniz.
While there were some advancements in the medieval years, they were relatively unsubstantial and therefore Boyer spends only a brief time with them. Unfortunately, he concentrates on the activity in Europe, ignoring some of the work in other parts of the world. The fourth chapter deals with the century before Newton, where the last of the foundation ideas were set down and Newton's giants did their work and puffed out their shoulders.
The fifth chapter is devoted largely to the parallel work of Newton and Liebniz, where they independently invented what we now call differential and integral calculus. While the utility of the new mathematics could not be denied, there were many people who found great fault in it. It is easy for us to think of these critics as short sighted, but in fact many of their arguments were valid. Despite all the genius of Newton and Liebniz, there were still many gaps in the calculus that had to be corrected, which is the subject of the remaining chapters.
Written at a level so that mathematicians and laypeople alike can understand the ideas and how they expanded over the centuries, this is a book that is still of use in histories of mathematics and the centuries long development of ideas.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A little technical on the historical side... 27 Nov. 2009
By Publicagent - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Boyer is a historian of mathematics, and I have his larger history text, which I like much better. I honestly expected a history of the calculus to be more of a fascinating read. The author does an excellent job of taking you through some of the finer points of this history and reasons why, for example, Archimedes should not be given credit for discovering the calculus, but why there is some justification for such a claim. The thing is, these finer points of the history are mentioned quite frequently even with regard to mathematicians whom I have never heard of. It seems that someone is always saying that so-and-so really discovered the calculus, and Boyer always points out why in fact they did not. The writing also can be rather verbose at times (this is sometimes entertaining). I do not see this text as appealing to a lay reader with an interest in the history of one of the greatest intellectual acheivements of all time: the calculus. I see this as appealing more to historians of mathematics or other such related fields. I started this book twice, and the second time, I made it about three fifths of the way through. It's hard to read a lot at once. It's a history book, not a book about the history. There are a fair amount of diagrams, and the math is interesting, if at times confusing, to follow. I can't say that my understanding of calculus is much deeper after reading the majority of the book, though it certainly does have a larger and more technical context.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Vivid history of the calculus, fascinating! 5 Jun. 2001
By Jin Man Han - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book clearly shows how the underlying concept of the caculus had been developed from geometric intuiton to formal logical elaboration. It feels good to know that even Newton himself was having trouble defining the infinitesimals. Now I can understand why modern calculus books are filled with so many strict definitions of continuity and limits. Mathematicians had to establish rigorous formulation of the calculus to free themselves from the vague definition of physical realities which modern physicist cannot understand even now.
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