Seventeen Equations that Changed the World Paperback – 13 Jun 2013
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His wondrous world of worked-out maths and joined-up thinking is radical and even romantic (The Times)
Interesting and authoritative (BBC Focus)
A unique history of humanity told through its seventeen defining equations; from Pythagoras to Calculus.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Just one little flaw in an otherwise excellent book. Georges Lemaitre is, like Poirot, belgian, not french.Published 1 month ago by Jan Matthys
very good read, quite challenging, sometimes the maths left me standing, but in truth some of the maths was just dumped on you, rather than explained. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Steve Dunthorne
brilliantly written and even the most difficult equations and their history easily understood. Suggest reading of the Black-Scholes equation for all politicians and economists --... Read morePublished 3 months ago by C. R. Narraway
The author is very well known for his popular books on mathematics.
I had not been aware that his interests also extend to physics. Read more
Some chapters, especially in the middle, about topology and imaginary numbers, are written so unclearly that I learned nothing from them. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Nita
A fantastically useful book which covers a lot of ground in handy, chapter-sized chunks - all of them very well explained. Read morePublished 4 months ago by RTK
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