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Seventeen Equations that Changed the World Paperback – 2 Feb 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846685311
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846685316
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 234,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Praise for The Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities:

'Stewart has a genius for explanation ... Find a comfortable chair for some holiday puzzling: mathematics doesn't come more entertaining than this.

(New Scientist)

Stewart has served up the instructive equivalent of a Michelin-starred tasting menu (Guardian)

His wondrous world of worked-out maths and joined-up thinking is radical and even romantic (Ian Finlayson Times)

Interesting and authoritative (BBC Focus)

Book Description

A unique history of humanity told through its seventeen defining equations; from Pythagoras to Calculus.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By D. Bird on 10 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The difficulty with a book devoted to the important equations is that there is a lot of very complex mathematics which underpins those equations. To understand a lot of the equations in this book it would be helpful to know something about calculus or other higher level maths. Since nowadays you can do an A level in Physics without studying calculus it seems that this book can only be aimed at undergraduate students or people who have studied these interesting areas. Nevertheless, this book is a great inspiration to those who have an understanding of maths and want to develop it further beyond what they know.

These equations have had a remarkable impact on our lives and our understanding of the universe so it is great that someone is willing to sit down and explain them to us in a way that is not too abstract and technical. Like with most popular science books it is not important that the reader understand all the logical implications of maths, but to get some understanding of the general nature of these equations. When trying to understand these equations we have to start from somewhere and this book is a good place to start.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Xenophon on 5 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When learning Maths at secondary school in the UK, one learns theorems, equations, mathematical methods, learns how to apply them, answers questions on them in class and in exams and stops there. Maths done. Finished.

Ian Stewart sees this gap between the Maths people know and the uses of this Maths both historically and in our present-day societies. An example is his chapter on logarithms. Many have heard of logarithms and know the basic logarithmic rules of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. What Stewart does, as he does with the other 16 equations, formulas and mathematical ideas, is to give the historical development of logarithms, describes how they function, describe how they are useful and describes their various important applications in our daily lives.

Stewart is a great ambassador for Maths and has done a great deal to make the subject seem less stuffy and more approachable to the reader. If students were introduced to the applications, meanings and ideas behind the Maths they are taught at school at an earlier age via Stewart's book then maybe there would be a greater passion developed amongst adolescents to study it further and realise its importance in understanding the world around us.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Johnston VINE VOICE on 30 May 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time with only a single equation, accepting that more might "scare the punters off". Bill Bryson wrote A Short History of Nearly Everything with neither equations nor pictures. Ian Stewart is therefore being very brave writing a popular science book which explains the mathematical basis for our modern world, unashamedly focusing on the key equations themselves.

That said, the equations are used more as milestones than intensively studied subjects. This is not a "book full of maths", and each chapter is largely a textual exploration around the subject starring the featured equation, explaining what it means, and what it led to.

The scope is vast, from Pythagoras through to the underpinnings of quantum theory, chaos and derivatives trading, taking in key scientific developments and their mathematical explanations along the way. Stewart does a remarkable job of compacting this scope into just 17 chapters and about 300 pages.

If you're a skilled mathematician you will gloss over the maths and still take value from the following discussions. If, however, your maths is more limited or, like mine, rather rusty, you'll find you don't need to follow all the mathematical details. You don't need to really understand about grads, divs and curls, for example, to appreciate the similarity in "shape" between the key equations in several different areas of science. The author does a very fine job of both explaining this structure, and also where the reader must understand, and where detailed understanding is less important.

Some of the explanations are quite complex, especially where Stewart is exploring the most recent applications of older ideas.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DannyMc on 17 Aug. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Britain will I should declare but I have a degree in mathematics so my review is likely to be coloured by that. This book takes you through 17 equations, giving a short introduction to the equations, a description of why they are important and then for each one a lovely rambling story of occasions where the equation might be important or higher was discovered with a little bit of mathematical history thrown in. Like many popular books on mathematics the narrative often brings you to the point of deepening your understanding, but then pulls away. So from the book was a little disappointing. However I would recommend that for anyone who has an interest in mathematics but maybe not much training, and who wants to improve their mathematical literacy. The best thing about book is the broad range of topics covered in the various chapters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By daisycow on 20 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback
Ian Stewart has written a most readable and interesting book, which on occasion almost becomes a page turner as you wait to see how some esoteric but important problem will be solved. And he brings to life some of the greatest names in science, making them flesh and blood - Newton, Descartes, Poincare, so that we care about them and their fates. To do all this in between some of the most abstruse equations some of us will ever see is quite an achievement.
He also mentions some of the lesser known characters, people in the wings who don't get their share of the fame. Also he is fair with his spreading out of the honours, letting many have the praise when there was multiple creators of some invention, ignoring the usual fight over who was first past the post.
Then there are those equations. I must say I am surprised that so many seemed so happy with them, esoteric as they are. I would have thought that for anyone not keeping up with maths or physics they would have been a major stumbling block, but it seems not, which is great. I would warn less up-to-date readers though that the science is full on and you had better be prepared to skip those bits. In fact I don't think Stewart explains some of those areas very adequately at all for a book supposedly to be about popularizing science - sometimes he seems to be conversing as though he were in the senior common room instead.
However overall a great read and very educational.
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