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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Edifying on 2 levels: mathematical and practical, 3 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Seventeen Equations that Changed the World (Paperback)
Ian Stewart is one of those rare writers whose familiarity with esoteric topics facilitates his ability to communicate it to us lesser mortals rather than widen the gap. He's not alone in this regard, but this book is better than most.

I've read a few books written along similar lines, all commendable, but 17 Equations that Changed the World pretty well fulfils its brief. The virtue of this book over others is how Stewart deftly explains the relevance between truly serious mathematics and the real world - a connection that eludes most people.

I expect that some of the mathematical exposition will be beyond the ability of many readers, but it's worth persevering just to appreciate how much the Western civilization that we all take for granted is grounded in pure mathematics.

To give some snippets: the relationship between the second law of thermodynamics and time; how Maxwell's equations gave us modern communication; how the Fourier transform allows us to compress digital photographs; how Newton's theory of gravity predicts `tubes' for gravitational travel around the solar system; why the relationship between quantum mechanics and physical reality is a conundrum yet gives us all our electronic toys; how chaos theory predicts that there's no such thing as a stable population; how cracking codes is related to the sphere-packing problem in higher dimensions; how mathematics gives credence to human-generated climate change; and how mathematics can deceive us into thinking that investing virtual money in virtual commodities doesn't have consequences in the real world yet gave us the GFC.
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