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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of `Taming The Infinite' by Ian Stewart
This is a fantastic book on the history and applications of mathematics. It starts with Hindu Arabic numerals and ends with Chaos Theory. Of course every major mathematical theorem or topic during this period could not be stated in a book of this size and as the author states he had to be selective. My only complaint about the selection is the lack of `linear algebra'...
Published on 13 April 2009 by K. Singh

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's over my head
This is university level pure mathematics so the Waterstone reviewer who wrote "guaranteed to illuminate even the most number-shy" could not have read it. I don't know where this paperback is supposed to fit in: it is not a text book and nor is it a layman's paperback but requires a good level of mathematical knowledge and a high intellect to get anywhere near grasping...
Published on 4 Feb 2010 by Anthony Harrowsmith


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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's over my head, 4 Feb 2010
By 
Anthony Harrowsmith (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
This is university level pure mathematics so the Waterstone reviewer who wrote "guaranteed to illuminate even the most number-shy" could not have read it. I don't know where this paperback is supposed to fit in: it is not a text book and nor is it a layman's paperback but requires a good level of mathematical knowledge and a high intellect to get anywhere near grasping the concepts. A number of tantalising concepts could have made this book more interesting if they had been explained eg. what is 196,884 dimensional algebra and although it is good to know that the Greeks solved cubic equations using conic sections how did they do it? The index is not very good. I don't know who this book could be recommended to.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 7 Jun 2010
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M. F. Cayley (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I found this book disappointing. It seemed to me to have been written without a clear enough view of the intended readership. It contains brief biographies of leading contributors to the development of maths, and these are often written in a fairly chatty style; and boxed text gives short illustrations of the usefulness of different aspects of maths. These parts of the book seem intended to be comprehensible to non-specialists, though they contain passages that require more expert knowledge to be fully understood. The core of the book is an outline of the history of maths, and much of this, especially for Renaissance and later maths, is incomprehensible to someone who has not had at least university-level mathematical education. (I suspect some will be not fully comprehensible even to some maths graduates.) The problem is that many mathematical discoveries are presented in a fairly technical but very summary form, without clear explanations of what they are about, and at times without a clear exposition of the mathematical notation used. Specialist terms are often used without explanation of what they mean.

Unless you are an expert mathematician, you are likely to feel that you are often reading an unknown foreign language, without a crib or dictionary.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of `Taming The Infinite' by Ian Stewart, 13 April 2009
By 
K. Singh (Hertfordshire) - See all my reviews
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This is a fantastic book on the history and applications of mathematics. It starts with Hindu Arabic numerals and ends with Chaos Theory. Of course every major mathematical theorem or topic during this period could not be stated in a book of this size and as the author states he had to be selective. My only complaint about the selection is the lack of `linear algebra' because it is perhaps the second most (first being calculus) powerful mathematical tool ever invented.
To fully appreciate this book you must have a reasonable mathematical ability such as a good pass at Further Mathematics A level or equivalent.
Stewart does write in a way that will appeal to most readers and also you can dip into any chapter without digesting the previous chapters. The author has hit the right tone and progression.
A lot of research and time must have been invested into writing this book because of the coverage of applications, the history behind important mathematical developments, profiles of the leading mathematicians etc. I really do like the broad range of mathematical applications throughout the book. The author explains where differential equations are used in the field of physics and modern technology such as radio, tv and commercial jet aircraft and how important Navier Stokes Equation is in fluid mechanics. It goes on to explain where coordinate geometry and trigonometry are used in real life such as graphics, stock market fluctuations, navigation, surveying etc. This is an excellent resource for any A level mathematics teacher who wants to inspire his/her pupils.
The history of mathematics starts with the Hindu Arabic numerals and how they were brought to Europe by Fibonacci. It highlights major historical figures in the mathematics by placing a brief biography in a light shaded grey with an image of the mathematician. However I did not find this sort of feature for Leibniz which is a serious omission since he and Newton founded calculus.
I found the following minor typos:
1. Page 73 the result `sin(theta/2)=sqrt(1-cos(theta))/2' should be `sin(theta/2)=sqrt(1-cos(theta)/2)'.
2. On page 156 the statement of Riemann Hypothesis should read `complex zeros lie on the line z=1/2 plus or minus it' not `z=1/2 plus it'.
3. Page 260 the statement is written `x(t+3)' should be `x(t+ epsilon)'.
This is an excellent book and would recommend that anybody interested in mathematics should purchase this book. The book is a fantastic resource for any college or university library.
Kuldeep Singh
Sunday, 12 April 2009
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent History Puts Maths in Context, 23 May 2012
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This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
This is a super book which gives a fascinating history of maths and its characters, including their rivalries, and puts many of the concepts in a context both historical and scientific.

The majority of the book is readily accessible to anyone who passed a good O level, but the important concepts beyond that level are well introduced, and if some people don't get the full maths impact, then it should still give them an idea of the impact of maths on our lives.

That I see as the point of this book; in a country (writing in the UK) where people seem to be proud of innumeracy and mathematical ignorance, a book such as this shows how everything that happens can be described by maths, and everything we have and make depends upon maths.

It is a great shame that the spectacular failure-even sabotage- of our education system over the last few decades makes this book less attractive and accessible to people than it should be.

If you're not afraid to look at maths, then even if the concepts are more than you really want to follow, the book will still take you on a journey of understanding.

Another excellent piece of work by Ian Stewart, one of our great teachers and communicators.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Oh!, 22 Nov 2012
By 
Mrs. T. Begum (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
How disappointing! I soo looked forward to this book coming through my door so that I could stuck in but unfortunately it didn't deliver.

As I am of the non mathematical portion of the world, I expect any popular maths book to be easy on the mind and talk about generally about mathematical concepts or explain them in a way that makes a light bulb and ping in my head and help ignite an interest maths, as did Singh's Fermat's Last Theorem.

Rather unfortunately this was not the case. I cant say I was sorry to finish this book in the least. Its a Big thumbs down from me.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Both patronising and taxing., 11 Sep 2012
This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
Although much of the material is aimed at those who are new to mathematics, or who have a casual interest, as is clear from the fact files near the end of each chapter, the language employed would make it impossible for the target audience to understand. I appreciated that complex matters were only touched upon, but everything else was only touched upon too: many mathematical ideas and their applications were only described where there could have been an explanation, which left me feeling as if I hadn't learned anything new after finishing.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another excellent history of mathematics, 2 April 2011
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The question has been asked: "Who is this book for?" and my answer would probably be: "the author."

A book has various purposes: to entertain is one, and to inform is another. A third is (more controversially in the philosophical sense) to clarify the thoughts of the writer. One has the sense that Stewart has a lot of mathematics jumbled up in his head and (this sentiment I can identify with) has the need to structure it in some manner. And in that, this book appears to be a success.

As one of those in the position of having a mathematics degree, I can state that this book ought to be easily comprehensible to mathematics undergraduates. (When I say "easily", though, it requires that the brain behind the eyes be alert and prepared to do a little hard lifting.) It also ought to be accessible to those studying mathematics beyond GCSE (someone else go translate for non-British education systems). To anyone reasonably literate to whom this book is completely incomprehensible I would suggest you're not really into mathematics that much anyway, so why are you wasting your time reading this when your intellectual capabilities are probably far better employed picking lottery numbers and guessing who's going to win TV talent contests.

As for me, there are a lot of areas of mathematics which puzzle me a little, and several which intrigue me. The reason why this gets a 5-star review is that exactly those areas which have both puzzled *and* intrigued me were covered in a few choice, pithy words, along the lines: "Statistics is applied probability" and explanation about how the axiomatisation of probability was based on Lebesgue measure (I'd noticed the correlation but I hadn't twigged that this was a genuinely crafted construction because the usual literature glosses over it).

It's all too easy to give up at the first concept you don't get straight away. The superior mind takes another run up at it, and repeats until successful. Don't forget we also have google now. If you don't understand something, ask yourself whether this is the fault of the writer or the reader. And if you're really not sufficiently motivated enough to try and work out what is being communicated, ask yourself why you bothered to start reading this in the first place. Then go watch the footie instead.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beware the enthusiasm, 9 Mar 2011
By 
Tarasque (Nottingham U.K.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
I agree with most of the reviewers here that this is a disappointing and frustrating book for the general reader. The criticism that the author does not have a clear view of the intended readership is spot on; the broad 'story' is engaging enough but when it comes to the actual maths and the examples, the explanations just aren't there.
The one enthusiastic review (so far) is obviously by someone who doesn't really need to read the book in the first place - witness his ability to correct typos in formulae! As the song goes: 'There's gotta be something better than this'.
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5 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mugwump, 16 Nov 2009
By 
M. Harriman "Martin H" (Auckland, New Zealand New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics (Paperback)
Great build up on enticement page but leaves cunning mathematical voids or rather assumption of great leaps in comparative logic which takes me back to my first term at Dartmouth in 1945 with HKP, fruity Prout, he of the tenor voice who sang G & S's Rataplan (and had solved Pi to something lihe 59 places) "I'm a military man" but couln't penetrate literary minds with what he was demonstrating with a flagstaff and a sextant to find the solution for tan. Oh hades oh mores. I have yet to find the easy and perfect solution. Who can give me a suggestion?
Martin H
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Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics
Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics by Ian Stewart (Paperback - 3 Sep 2009)
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