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The Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time Paperback – 5 Apr 2007


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About the Author

Jason Socrates Bardi is a writer and editor specializing in the sciences. He has written for a number of different companies, government agencies, adn private institutions, including NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Scripps Research Institute.

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Three hundred years ago, history was made when a forgotten English printing press pounded out a few hundred copies of a 348-page work written by a minor government administrator, the retired Cambridge University professor Isaac Newton. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 24 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A Most Interesting Piece of History 20 Oct 2006
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book! The author has recounted a fascinating tale about the war that ultimately ensued between Newton and Leibniz as to which one of the two was the first to discover calculus. The author complements his captivating account with highlights of the personal lives of these two individuals, as well as the pertinent politics and daily life in seventeenth and early eighteenth century Europe. The writing style is simple, friendly and quite engaging.

At first, I hesitated to buy this book, despite my love for the subject matter, because of the less than positive early reviews that it was getting. These reviews seemed to dwell mainly on the book's poor editing. Later reviews seemed more forgiving in that regard and, thus, generally more positive. So, I bought the book, read it and absolutely loved it. I do agree that the many editorial errors, although they don't occur on every page, can be rather annoying and even downright confusing at times. Such errors include word repetitions, misprints, wrong verb tenses, occasional missing words, wrong word order, bad punctuation, etc. It is for that reason alone, i.e., poor editing, that I gave it merely four stars because as far as the subject matter, the writing style and the intense interest that this book generates, it is very easily five-star material. This book should be of particular interest to math, science and history buffs alike.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A Well-Told, If Narrow, Tale 24 Sep 2006
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Mr. Bardi points out in his book The Calculus Wars, most modern historians of science agree that Sir Isaac Newton (the great English scientist) and Gottfried Leibniz (the great German philosopher) each discovered the calculus independently. It is also generally accepted that, though Newton discovered the calculus many years before Leibniz, Leibniz published first and continued to work on the development of the subject long after Newton had moved on to other pursuits. And therein lies a tale.

The battle between Newton and Leibniz over the "credit" for discovering calculus is one of the great intellectual priority fights in the history of science. It is fascinating for many reasons but first among these must be for the insights it provides into the personalities of two mathematical geniuses: Newton's hypersensitive and introverted nature versus Leibniz's unflinching pursuit of truth as he perceived it in the face of all obstacles. Place on top of this the fact that this fight wasn't picked until they were both in the twilight of their careers, the fact that distance and slow communication made determining what's what more difficult and the fact that, in many ways, this was a reflection of England versus the Continent and you have a war well-joined indeed.

As a physicist and teacher, I was well aware of this conflict but Mr. Bardi has done a very good job of bringing out its details. The only thing I would caution readers of is that Mr. Bardi generally stays very close to his topic. What I mean is that he only provides biographical details that are germane to his story. Being very familiar with these two characters from other reading, I was clear on most of the situations he describes. Those less familiar with the people involved may have more trouble. Still, if Newton and Leibniz are personalities that interest you, this is a lively telling of a pivotal and often lost part of their lives.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Heavy on Biography, Light on the Origins of Calculus 6 July 2008
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Students of mathematics at the calculus level and beyond are usually made vaguely aware that, despite some minor historical contention, Isaac Newton is credited for the discovery of calculus. Fewer in number are those who learn the name Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz as Newton's rival claimant for that honor, and still fewer are those who are informed that Newton's methods of fluxions and fluents were almost immediately abandoned in favor of Liebniz's differentials and his superior mathematical notation (essentially that still in use today).

Author Jason Bardi aims to correct that knowledge shortfall in THE CALCULUS WARS: NEWTON, LIEBNIZ, AND THE GREATEST MATHEMATICAL CLASH OF ALL TIME. The use of the word "wars" and the hyperbolic phrasing "greatest clash of all time" set the expectations stage for an epic battle of intellectual giants as potentially juicy as 20-year-old Evariste Galois's fatally romantic duel with pistols. The historical facts are rather less sensational, however, consisting largely of letters and journal articles (most submitted anonymously at the time) hurling nationalistic accusations, often petty or unfounded, from one side of the English Channel to the other. As a result, Mr. Bardi struggles to deliver the implicit drama: there is no critical face-off between the principals, no momentous debate (even the British Royal Society largely shrugs it off thanks to Newton's presidency of that august body), no climactic moment when the truth is laid bare.

Perhaps more disconcerting, the vast majority of Bardi's book is not about calculus at all, not about the battle over its discovery, its historical underpinnings, or its subsequent development along the lines of Liebniz's work. We never see a comparative representation of the Newtonian and Liebnizian models, their notational differences, or their intellectual geneses from the mathematical work of their predecessors (Archimedes' famous method of exhaustion, for example, receives just one passing mention). Instead, the author falls back on the more conventional approach of chronological biography, trailing the two men's parallel lives from 1642 to 1728. It could certainly be argued that their respective biographies give important background to their personalities and professional status when the "calculus wars" finally broke out in 1699 (175 pages into Bardi's 250-page book). However, Bardi writes extensively on Liebniz's silver mining schemes, invention of a leather folding chair and a new type of windmill, promotion of binary numbers, theories of planetary motion and theology, political machinations, court genealogical work, and studies of China, to name a few. Similarly with Newton, it is his optics, theories of universal gravitation, stewardship of the British Mint, dabblings in alchemy, psychological mood swings, even his sexual orientation.

In the end, Bardi sides with Liebniz as the more aggrieved party, clearly innocent of the charges of plagiarism. Newton is clearly the loser in this "war," both for hoarding his great discovery to the detriment of fellow scientists and mathematicians and for treating his Continental contemporaries with such disdain. Sadly, the entire affair did nothing to polish the honor of either man.

Bardi's storytelling prose is fluid and well suited to his task, with one significant exception. In a tale of dueling mathematical, scientific, and intellectual giants, one inserts oneself at the greatest of risks. Perhaps a Stephen Hawking could merit an occasional authorial "I" in this story, but decidedly not a Jason Bardi (despite his ostentatiously displayed middle name, Socrates, that ironically only emphasizes the disparity). Author Bardi is given to repeated, utterly trivial, and mostly parenthetical insertions of his own opinions that are presumptuous, irrelevant, and distracting: "When I was in London, I noticed..." , "...an event I like to call..." , "I get this picture when I think about it..." , "...as I recall from my encounter..." , "For my part, I can't help but wish..." , "a docent told me..." , "I examined..." , "...I have read..." , "I examined... [again]" , culminating with the irrepressible "I'm not surprised, really" and the exquisite "For me, what's really interesting... " Every one of these first person insertions should have been removed by a more exacting editorial pencil.

I approached this book hoping to discover a comparative treatment of the origins and development of Newton's and Liebniz's twin lines of calculus development, to learn how two intellectual giants of the 18th Century each separately made a conceptual mathematical leap nearly on a par with Einstein's leap to relativity. The similarities and differences in their developmental threads would surely be part and parcel of the historical argument over rights of discovery and accusations of plagiarism. Regrettably, I found instead seemingly endless pages of biographical minutiae about everything else in these two great men's lives.
28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Interesting story, but doesn't merit a full book 23 Jun 2006
By Kedar Deshpande - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
While the story of the invention of calculus is an interesting one, it would be better suited for a long, New Yorker-style article, rather than a full book. Bardi fills out the narrative with interesting, but irrelevent material, such as other projects that Newton and Leibniz developed and studied. While Bardi does a good job of capturing the personalities of Newton and Leibniz, his attempt to fill out the book with historical background information and tangential stories ultimately makes "the calculus war" itself a backburner element. If you're solely interested in the calculus side of the story, this is the wrong book for you. If you're interested in a more holistic study of Newton and Leibniz, this is a good start.

Bardi is successful, however, at reproducing the era. His chronological narrative gives good insight to the way science and scientific societies progressed in the late 17th century. His details about the circulation of letters and correpsondence written by Leibniz and Newton provide solid information about how information traveled in those days. The side stories about Leibniz' time-sapping historical projects (which he did for money) and Newton's boredom with his duties as the head of the British Mint, also demonstrate the difficult lives that even major scientists and thinkers led back in those days.

While the book's writing style is amateurish at times (Bardi likes to use exclamation points and intermittent first-person commentary and opinion, which read like office emails, rather than historical analysis), Bardi does a good job at distilling the information into a text lay-people can understand.

This book was published by a small press and accordingly has numerous typos and some grammatical errors, which were annoying, even if expected.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Better then these reviews 8 Sep 2006
By Ginger Terrwilliger - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I knew nothing about the subject and after seeing a display about the controversy at a library; I thought I would like to learn more about the subject.

It's true there are typographical errors, but as to the content, for a layman like me, I thought the book presented a great overview of the subject with many interesting tangents. In fact, while I was reading it, I made a little list of other topics I'd like to learn more about as well. I think that's a sign of a good book.

To me, the tone of the writing was similar to a good PBS documentary- comfortable and knowledgeable.
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