The King of Infinite Space: Euclid and His Elements Audio CD – Audiobook, 15 Apr 2013
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The Wall Street Journal "Reading this brief, lively work is like sitting with the author in a French cafe with too many carafes of red wine and the smoke of hundreds of Gauloises swirling inside your head." The New Yorker "Lively...Berlinski guides us through an austere world of shapes and numbers with enthusiasm, assurance, and mischievous humor. He presents difficult ideas in straightforward terms, even when he moves into the strange and forbidding realm of non-Euclidean geometry." Publishers Weekly, Starred Review "In this brief, accessible foray, popular math/science writer Berlinski breathes life into an ancient mathematician and the world of axioms and theorems he created--a geometric world that became the basis for much of modern math, from analytic geometry to the idea of curved space-time... Even the most math-averse [will] be enthralled by Berlinski's rich, vibrant language... Berlinski's book succeeds not only as a history of geometry but also as an exploration of the power of ideas, masterfully replacing cold abstraction with humor and humanity." Booklist, Starred Review "In writing at once geometrically precise and disarmingly conversational, Berlinski explores the imposing edifice that Euclid erected on a foundation of just five deceptively simple axioms... An impressively concise distillation of the wizardry that transforms points, lines, and planes into sheer genius." Library Journal "Berlinski has produced a volume that will entertain and enlighten many of today's readers--even those who do not treasure their memories of geometry class." The Weekly Standard "Written with David Berlinski's characteristic mix of hothouse prose and standup comedy." Nature "[A] pared and elegant homage to the peerless geometer [Euclid] and his magnum opus." New York Journal of Books "For anyone who cares about Euclid, geometry, the philosophy of mathematics and most especially, for those who appreciate fine writing." American Scientist "The King of Infinite Space is not a crib for the lazy student who can't be bothered to read all 13 books of the Elements. Neither is it a line-by-line exegesis for the diligent student who wants help with specific propositions in Euclid. Instead Berlinski offers a meditative monologue on Euclid's place in the history of mathematics and the history of ideas. Berlinski speaks to you one-on-one, taking you into his confidence, never preachy or teachy." Kirkus Reviews "A playful yet deep excursus through Euclid's Elements, from veteran mathematician Berlinski. It is a pleasure to follow the author as he grasps the logistical tail of Euclid's mathematics and follows it to this day... It is a profound investigation, as math was synthesized and refined and Euclid broke out with his axiomatic system... as a way of seeing, a way of life... The author's storytelling is clear, crisp and emotive, and he brings Euclid's little-known life alive." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
David Berlinski holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and has taught mathematics and philosophy at universities in the United States and France. The bestselling author of A Tour of the Calculus and Newton's Gift, as well as many other books, he lives in Paris. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
In any popular book on mathematics, the main job of the author is to clearly an unobtrusively explain the mathematical ideas; they are the stars of the show, not the words. Berlinski, unfortunately is too taken with his purple prose mongering, and the words get in the way of the mathematical ideas. Everything that is said in this book could be said, and said more clearly, in about one tenth the number of words. Here is just one example, where Berlinski attempts to describe the Poincaré disk model of the hyperbolic plane:
"The Poincaré disk divides the Euclidean plane into three distinct regions of space. There are those points lying beyond the disk, those on its circumference, and those in its interior. ... Outside the circle, everything is Euclidean, and inside, everything hyperbolic. Outside and inside are Euclidean from the outside, but hyperbolic from the inside. The inside is accessible from the outside - step right in - but not the outside from the inside - no exit."
The paragraph that I extracted the above quote from is about 100 words long, and only the first sentence of thirteen words contains any real content at all, and that content is frankly pretty basic. The rest of the book is the same.
If you know anything at all about Euclid or geometry, you're unlikely to learn anything from this book, if you know nothing about Euclid or geometry I think you're likely to be confused about what is essential, and unlikely to come away with any appreciation of the mathematics that Berlinski is trying to write about.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I cannot say that I fully enjoyed this book, nor would I say that I disliked it. In fact, it made me think, and it awoke my curiosity not only for Euclid, the man and the work, but also for the field of geometry itself and that is quite a feat!
Even if you do not like all the abstract language and the geometrical shapes and forms, there are some very interesting observations on time and space, including a chapter on paintings frozen both in time and space! It may not be an entertaining read, but it is educational and rewarding in the end.
I saw this little book in the library, read the jacket, and took it home thinking it might be a fun read. Wrong!
With Euclid's 2300 year old proof, you would expect someone in the 21st century with all our history of rigor in math and and modern technology to GET THE PYTHAGOREAN THEOREM CORRECT. On page 75 (paperback) in the third paragraph he drivels into confusion: "The square BDEC is equal in its parts to EL and CL. But CL is equal to the square GL; and EL to the square AK. When reassembled, the square BDEC, having been divided for purposes of proof, is equal to GL and AK." This is a mess. There is no square GL and the rest is misdescribed. What is intended, I believe, is: The square BDEC is equal in its parts to BL and CL. But BL is equal to the square GB; and CL to the square AK. When reassembled, the square BDEC, having been divided for purposes of proof, is equal to GB and AK.
While explaining the proof's generic approach correctly, he misses with the details. If he doesn't get the nomenclature of the proof right, did he copy it from somewhere else perpetuating an earlier error, did an editor slip in a well-meaning "correction", or is it a mere typo? I suspect it is not a typo because there are too many letters involved. Somebody somewhere involved in the production of the book didn't understand the proof. Suspecting that Berlinski didn't follow the proof or work through the editor's final version put me off quite a lot and I considered the book more critically after that.
I noticed he was off point a lot. He makes snarky remarks about mathematicians, mathematics, and Euclid. He enjoys appearing smart about things onto which he can only project his florid imagination, which to me is not smart but simply trying to make a living on opinion masquerading as deep thought. This is akin to Dilbert-like arm waving, bluffing to distract from the essential problem of having nothing substantial to say. That is to say, he's a real bulls*** artist. This is unfortunate for there may be a lot that could be said about Euclid and his "Elements" that would be interesting and intelligently based on the process of mathematics by a genuine mathematician, but it's not here. He is like an art historian with nothing to add to the original work but adding it just the same.
After the Pythagorean theorem confusion, Chapter 7 started with an irrelevant section on art which added no meaning to the discussion of the Elements. His writing is a kind of flatulence, nothing could get me to continue after that. I stopped reading. I decided to write a review.
I went to the internet to see who Berlinski was and found he is a senior fellow at something called the Discovery Institute. I found that Berlinski is not a mathematician, has a PhD in Philosophy and is a proponent of Intelligent Design. Finally, I had come to some explanation of what was going on. This guy is a kind of pseudo-scientist, a self-styled nineteenth century intellectual with opinions, just opinions, about everything. Berlinski has made no scientific contributions himself, he's like a writer for Star Trek with nothing but imagination to propel his concepts, but Star Trek is intended to be a fiction. Read his book about the Elements and see what nonsense sounds like trying to appear as intelligence. This little book is a piece of puffery. If you read the book at all critically, you'll find the man really has nothing to say. If you are half-asleep you might learn a few new words for what it's worth. That doesn't mean it's well written.
The question arises that in the professional reviews of the book no one mentions the flaw in the Pythagorean Theorem proof or makes a generic statement about the book's sloppiness. You may read high praise for the book from several sources, but did they really read the book? Are the reviewers of books like this so inept? In the reviews by Amazon readers, no one else mentions the Pythagorean theorem proof. Are people reading books like this for the pretense of reading them? If you are following the proof, you will stumble over what he wrote. It doesn't follow. There is no square GL. How can you not notice? This is a MATH book. The math has to be correct, just like engineers must design things that actually work. A philosopher, I would think, would take extra care to get the proof right. Philosophers are not constrained to reality. Case in point. That's why they have often been dead wrong. The book is just too sloppy, even for a mathematics philosophy book.