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on 5 December 2009
I had bought this being interested in maths many years ago in particular the concept of 'Beauty' in nature and art and how that correlated to symmetry and maths. I had hoped it would touch on fractals and logorithmic sequences and how objects such as seashells and cabbages grow in these formations. Sadly none of this was touched on and I'm not what I would call heavily into advanced mathematics.

However I did persevere and read the entire book although far from understanding the concepts in it. I very much enjoyed the humour and the history surrounding how mathmatical concepts were discovered. It reminded me very much of Bill Bryson's writting and not that of a stale Maths book at all. The book gets heavier towards the end when it starts talking of Quantum maths where it pretty much lost me completely.

If you are interested in Mathmatical concepts and discoveries this is a very entertaining and informative read but for me the cover was rather misleading. I would be interested to hear a review by a Maths scholar.
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This book has many good points, and some drawbacks. I think my own lack of mathematical knowledge held me back from fully appreciating it. (I got A in O level maths in 1981. I enjoyed maths at school, and felt I was getting to the interesting bits when I was forced towards physics chemistry and biology for A levels- looking back I wish I had the chance to do all four subjects)

The good points are that is well written with a clear narrative showing how our mathematical thinking has developed over time. It shows well how seemingly abstract problems lead on to many insights that may be interesting of themselves (pure maths) or may help solve practical problems. (applied maths) What seems like purely abstract mathematics may later turn out to be the route to new applied knowledge. The "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics is shown in many examples throughout the book. The discussion of the relationship between truth and beauty is well nuanced, and it seems likely that truth will be beautiful, and that a current "ugly" or "messy" formulation is one awaiting its simplification. At school I was just beginning to get the idea that graphs, coordinates, geometry, equations and matrices were all ways of expressing the same idea in different formats. This book shows how these relationships come about, and evolve out from one another.

The drawbacks of the book for me was that the final 100 pages largely lost me. I got certain headline points, but I did not understand the ideas behind group theory, Lie groups, Hamilton's work, Killing's work. I think this is a reflection of my ignorance, not the author's writing.

My feeling about this book is that it would be a great read for someone studying maths at A level or university and wanting to get an idea of how maths has developed and where it is going. It would whet the appetite and encourage their studies.
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on 11 January 2010
A fascinating account of significant developments in Mathematics and the intriguing characters who made them. It explained several things I never understood studying Chemistry at University.

I reckon you'd need at least A-level Maths to make much of it.
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on 24 December 2012
Really enjoyed it the first 3/4 of the book, but then, necessarily given the material, it becomes a little more technical towards the end and I found it lost a bit of the readability in the end, and made the last few chapter a little bit of an uphill slog. Would suit anyone with something more than a passing interest in high level mathematics and/or physics.
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on 29 March 2013
This book is very interesting and held my interest, although not always my comprehension, throughout the book. It is a history of the development of the mathematics of symmetry, from the earliest days to the 21st century.
What the author seems to argue is that symmetry arises in mathematics as a result of hidden mathematical laws and that these are also reflected to an unknown extent in the very makings of the universe. Group theory - mathematics of symmetry - links diverse disciplines such as geometry, number theory, algebra. The uncovering of these hidden laws is difficult: the author gives the historical context as well as something of the lives of the mathematicians tackling the problems
This is a difficult, but worthwhile read and would suit someone with some exposure to college mathematics. I intend to purchasing other books by the same author.
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on 29 November 2008
What more can I say?

Ian Stewart takes us on a journey through group theory to places you probably never considered, but in a completely fun and accessible manner. The historical tone of the book works really well, this book has inspired me to study galois theory in far greater depth.

A MUST for anybody with an interest in mathematics.
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on 16 November 2013
I started to read this book and realized that it is too advanced for me at the moment. I have retired now and am looking for stimulating reading. I realize that I have to start on much simpler concepts first. Will return to the book later on!
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on 11 June 2013
I would recommend this book. Ian Stewart is great in explaining a very complex mathematical concepts behind symmetry and group theory. It is a very enjoyable and rewarding book to read and has sharpened my interest in this fascinating topic.
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on 10 April 2013
This book is well written and very pleasant to read. I advise this book to every student in physics or mathematics. Excellent!
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