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Seventeen Equations that Changed the World Paperback – 13 Jun 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (13 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668532X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846685323
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

His wondrous world of worked-out maths and joined-up thinking is radical and even romantic (The Times)

Interesting and authoritative (BBC Focus)

Book Description

A unique history of humanity told through its seventeen defining equations; from Pythagoras to Calculus.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The difficulty with a book devoted to the important equations is that there is a lot of very complex mathematics which underpins those equations. To understand a lot of the equations in this book it would be helpful to know something about calculus or other higher level maths. Since nowadays you can do an A level in Physics without studying calculus it seems that this book can only be aimed at undergraduate students or people who have studied these interesting areas. Nevertheless, this book is a great inspiration to those who have an understanding of maths and want to develop it further beyond what they know.

These equations have had a remarkable impact on our lives and our understanding of the universe so it is great that someone is willing to sit down and explain them to us in a way that is not too abstract and technical. Like with most popular science books it is not important that the reader understand all the logical implications of maths, but to get some understanding of the general nature of these equations. When trying to understand these equations we have to start from somewhere and this book is a good place to start.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When learning Maths at secondary school in the UK, one learns theorems, equations, mathematical methods, learns how to apply them, answers questions on them in class and in exams and stops there. Maths done. Finished.

Ian Stewart sees this gap between the Maths people know and the uses of this Maths both historically and in our present-day societies. An example is his chapter on logarithms. Many have heard of logarithms and know the basic logarithmic rules of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. What Stewart does, as he does with the other 16 equations, formulas and mathematical ideas, is to give the historical development of logarithms, describes how they function, describe how they are useful and describes their various important applications in our daily lives.

Stewart is a great ambassador for Maths and has done a great deal to make the subject seem less stuffy and more approachable to the reader. If students were introduced to the applications, meanings and ideas behind the Maths they are taught at school at an earlier age via Stewart's book then maybe there would be a greater passion developed amongst adolescents to study it further and realise its importance in understanding the world around us.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time with only a single equation, accepting that more might "scare the punters off". Bill Bryson wrote A Short History of Nearly Everything with neither equations nor pictures. Ian Stewart is therefore being very brave writing a popular science book which explains the mathematical basis for our modern world, unashamedly focusing on the key equations themselves.

That said, the equations are used more as milestones than intensively studied subjects. This is not a "book full of maths", and each chapter is largely a textual exploration around the subject starring the featured equation, explaining what it means, and what it led to.

The scope is vast, from Pythagoras through to the underpinnings of quantum theory, chaos and derivatives trading, taking in key scientific developments and their mathematical explanations along the way. Stewart does a remarkable job of compacting this scope into just 17 chapters and about 300 pages.

If you're a skilled mathematician you will gloss over the maths and still take value from the following discussions. If, however, your maths is more limited or, like mine, rather rusty, you'll find you don't need to follow all the mathematical details. You don't need to really understand about grads, divs and curls, for example, to appreciate the similarity in "shape" between the key equations in several different areas of science. The author does a very fine job of both explaining this structure, and also where the reader must understand, and where detailed understanding is less important.

Some of the explanations are quite complex, especially where Stewart is exploring the most recent applications of older ideas.
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Format: Paperback
Ian Stewart has been in the forefront of popular mathematics writing for over 20 years. In that time I would say that most of his books have been good books, especially the collections of his Scientific American columns and Fearful Symmetry come to mind. But then there have been the odd aberrations such as his Very Short Introduction on Symmetry which was aimed at far too high a mathematical level.

This book falls somewhere in between good Stewart and bad Stewart. In the first half of the book he tries to explain where the maths comes from as well as its context. For formulae such as those of Euclid and Fourier this can be a very demanding exercise and this part of the book is not for the maths phobic. Where the book improves is when you get to the more advanced equations where the derivation is no longer possible to explain in lay terms and so the development of the equations are only sketched. Then the focus is on their implications to provide context. So once you get to Relativity it is a fairly easy ride after that. His take down of the entire field of economics in the Black-Scholes chapter is particularly worth the cover price. It just shows how all those experts are fooled by their equations. So there are gems and some chapters that are excellent but the first half is at times painful.
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