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Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr Hardcover – 1 Jul 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (1 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025206
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025207
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 1.9 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 357,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By GC on 26 Jun 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
I downloaded this book after listening to a recent Philosopher's Zone podcast in which the author, Michael Deakin, discussed Hypatia's life (and death) with Alan Saunders.

Most people will know of Hypatia from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

"On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent [415 AD], Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster-shells, and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames."

How "the modest maid" in "the bloom of beauty and in the maturity of wisdom" came to such a violent end is only part of Hypatia's extraordinary story, for she was the foremost mathematician and astronomer of her age.

This wonderfully written book examines Hypatia's life, work and death within the context of the old Hellenistic world's (losing) battle with Christianity and skilfully evokes the violence and turmoil of fifth century Alexandria. This book should appeal to anybody with an interest in ancient history, philosophy, mathematics or Christianity (though the latter, in the form of Saint Cyril, is the villain of the story).

Finally, Prometheus Books deserves a word of praise for producing a Kindle book with no annoying formatting errors.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Vincent on 12 Jun 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A clear and concise account of what is known about the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria. Apart from a few errors and over-simplifications in the introductory chapter it provides a reliable account of her life and works. Written by a Professor of the History of Mathematics it perhaps stresses her mathematical studies at the expense of her activities in other branches of philosophy. As such it complements rather than replaces Maria Dzielska's book Hypatia of Alexandria (not available on Kindle). It's particularly to be recommended for its appendix containing all the main ancient sources for her life in translation - it's worth the purchase for that alone. I also really enjoyed Deakin's acerbic footnotes - he doesn't suffer fools gladly. Well worth reading if you have seen the film Agora and want to find out more about this fascinating woman.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By New Horizons on 8 Mar 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the few biography on Hypatia of Alexandria and one of the best out there. Would highly recommend as a great read and as a starting point for learning about Hypatia.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ahmet hilmi on 27 April 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Well researched and comprehensive biography of Hypatia. The author successfully tackled diverse areas as church history, philosophy and science. A great read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
A specialist's view 27 July 2007
By SkookumPete - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Deakin is a mathematician, not a classical historian, and apart from his discussion of Hypatia's place in Alexandrian mathematics, this biography contains little that is not already to be found elsewhere, most notably in Maria Dzielska's study. Deakin does a reasonable job of putting Hypatia in a cultural context, but his understanding of late antiquity is superficial and admittedly garnered largely from encyclopedias. On the other hand, he has closely studied the sources for Hypatia's life (which he includes in an appendix) and the meagre evidence for her influence on philosophy and science. His introduction to astrolabes and conic sections is of some intrinsic interest and helps illuminate the state of knowledge in the fifth century, but since we have not one shred of writing that is inarguably Hypatia's work, the connection is rather tenuous. Nonetheless Deakin's conclusions give a valuable new perspective on this best-known of female Hellenists: one of a teacher with a wide range of interests, if not an original thinker.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Thorough, informative 25 Oct 2011
By Libris Vermis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Deakin covers much of the same territory as Maria Dzielska's "Hypatia of Alexandria", but being a mathematician, also comments on her mathematical contributions, which were significant.

The problem for both authors is that there just isn't that much to go on. Deakin used to (and maybe still does) maintain a list on his site of all the contemporary and semi-contemporary writings on Hypatia. Would you be surprised to learn that they all fit on a single double-spaced sheet of printer paper? That's how little we really have, and not a word from Hypatia's own hand; most from her adoring ex-pupil, Synesius of Cyrene. Small wonder that even the most skeptical scholars are willing to use the entry on her from the 10th Century Suda, a sort of lexicon written almost 400 years after her death.

With so few contemporary historical documents to draw on, both books are somewhat dry, as all patient, scholarly works must be; but readers looking for thoroughness will be well rewarded. Plus, I check up on Hypatia scholarship pretty regularly, and while there is almost no end to Hypatia fantasies, pseudo-scholarship, etc, Deakin's and Dzielska's are the only scholarly works for the non-specialist that I'm aware of (references to any others will be GREATLY appreciated!).
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Well Written and Engaging 9 Feb 2012
By Karin Rita Gastreich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Hypatia of Alexandria, Deakin does an excellent job of creating a complete picture of this remarkable mathematician for whom the historical records are scarce and incomplete.

I read this book with an eye toward using it in one of my classes, Women and Science, and came away ready to make it required reading for my students. Deakin's approach to documenting Hypatia's history is different from other popular histories that I've read. Rather than integrating the different aspects of her story into a single chronological whole, he separates out the historical, intellectual and religious context into digestible chunks. Only after completing his illustration of the temporal stage on which Hypatia's life and death took place does he present the scant information that survives regarding her achievements as a mathematician, philosopher and political figure. The approach works extraordinarily well.

About half the volume is dedicated to appendices and notes, and while this section is more disjunct than the primary text, it also makes for interesting reading. Here we are given the details of Hypatia's mathematics; the intriguing story of Pandrosion, another woman mathematician that preceded her; a comentary on the legend of St. Catherine; and (my personal favorite) translations of the original sources.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the ancient world, women's history, women and science, and the conflicts that plagued the early Christian church.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Not a biography 13 Mar 2012
By Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, in a word, was disappointing. It is a research paper in the guise of a book. There is no narration, no supposition and strictly avoids any reasonable conjecture. As there is little verifiable facts upon which to write an accurate biography of Hypatia, maybe this isn't the author's fault. As it is a technical piece of writing goes it may very well be noteworthy, but I am unqualified to speak on such matters. The inanely repetitious reference to subsequent chapters, sections and appendices ruins any chance of enjoyment in the reading. The author's obsession with 'loggerheads' too, rapidly becomes annoying and distracting.

This is what happens when you let mathematicians write biographies. The subject matter would have been better served by Micheal as a technical consultant, and the biography given over to a proper author of such genres.

If your interest is scholarly, this book may be useful to you. If you're looking for a biography on this esteemed woman, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
The Lost World of Hypatia 14 Mar 2008
By Foster Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The disappointing thing about this book is the lack of a good narrative. The problem is that there is so little known about Hypatia and her world that not a lot can be said. Try to imagine a colony in Egypt of mostly Greek ethnicity, where pagans and Christians both fought and coexisted and interacted, if not always well, with a Jewish minority. The culture was in decline and the science, such as it was, died with Hypatia. This resembles the contemporary USA more than Egypt or any place in North Africa or the Middle East today. The academic mathematics community has become utterly moribund and it is being followed by theoretical physics (see Lee Smolin's book "The Trouble with Physics"). Who is our version of Hypatia? Perhaps Lynn Margulis, a biologist whe dares to be different.
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