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The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity Paperback – 1 Sep 2001
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"An engaging, pellucid explanation of the mathematical understanding of infinity, enlivened by a historical gloss on the age-old affinities between religious and secular conceptions of the infinite."
A compelling narrative that blends a story of infinity with the tagic tale of a tormented and brilliant mathematician. From the end of the ninteenth century until his death, one of history's greatest mathematicians languished in an asylum, driven mad by an almost Faustian thirst for universal knowledge. THE MYSTERY OF THE ALEPH tells the story of Georg Cantor (1845-1918), a Russian born German whose work on the 'continuum problem' would bring us closer than any mathemetician before him in helping us to comprehend the nature of infinity. A respected mathematician himself, Dr. Aczel follows Cantor's life and traces the roots of his enigmatic theories. From the Pythagoreans, the Greek cult of mathematics, to the mystical Jewish numerology found in the Kabbalah, THE MYSTERY OF THE ALEPH follows the search for an answer that may never truly be trusted.See all Product description
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As this book is not particularly mathematical, and is extremely well-written, it should appeal to those readers with a strong interest in mathematics, without the mathematical hardware behind them. Aczel's book makes a great accompaniment to Rudy Rucker's "Infinity and the Mind", which is much more mathematical, and covers many more aspects of Infinity. I give Aczel's book 4 stars, as Rucker's is out there on its own with 5 for this particular topic area.
To complete the trilogy I recommend Maor's "To Infinity and Beyond", which is also a very easy read without being too mathematical.
There is some neatly explained mathematics, however, and it is only fair to say how entertainingly Aczel writes: he makes the subject accessible to non-mathematicians, and in this respect provides a great service. Chapters 3 and 20 are a joy to read. There are one or two careless errors though: for example, on page 24 we read, ".. the volume of a cone inscribed in a sphere with maximal base equals a third of the volume of the sphere" [in fact it's a quarter]. Again, on page 155, Aczel uses the word 'converse' when 'negation' would be appropriate.
While the book is written in an entertaining and absorbing style with ideas explained simply and concisley, much contemplation is required by the reader. I personally would reccomend that one take the neccesary time in order to try come to terms with a concept that "defies intuition". Four stars then, and the only reason I didn't give it five is because I can still sleep at night...barely.
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Till I started to read this book from Amir Aczel. This is mathematics in another way. Not too much equations, formulas, integrals, etc. No, this is mathematics one may do by just sitting in a comfortable chair and playing with the thoughts bubbling up inside the brain.
This is almost about what Georg Cantor did. Besides describing many great scientist of his time, as Weierstrass, Riemann, Dedekind and others, the book describes thoroughly the life and work of Cantor. His successes and the serious problems he encountered. From what I read in the book I started really to admire Cantor. Most people would have given up with the severe opposition he faced during his life. But not Cantor, each time he went down, he stood up to fight for his ideas again.
Besides interesting mathematical topics, going back to the ancient Greeks, the book describes very well the atmosphere of the end of the nineteenth century. It also gives us an idea of life in the town of Halle in the eastern part of Germany, where Cantor lived and worked most of his life. I once had to stay a few days there. Taking the exit Halle I suddenly found myself in the middle of the nineteenth century. Rainy cobble stoned streets, apartment buildings from Cantor's time, it all was still there. That may change, lots of new roads and buildings are under construction.
The book not only describes the work done by Cantor on infinity, but it also continues with the scientists building further on the foundations laid by Cantor, as for instance, Kurt Gödel. So, the book provides the reader with a general and thorough view on all what was found, stated and developed on infinity up to the second half of the twentieth century.
Now I have read Aczel's book, do I know what infinity is? No, not really. But sometimes, when I sit in my comfortable chair, with Aczel's book close by, playing a little with this topic in my mind, I am sure I almost get it ...