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A Tour of the Calculus Paperback – 1 Feb 1997

2.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA; Reprint edition (Feb. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679747885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679747888
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 770,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Inside Flap

Were it not for the calculus, mathematicians would have no way to describe the acceleration of a motorcycle or the effect of gravity on thrown balls and distant planets, or to prove that a man could cross a room and eventually touch the opposite wall. Just how calculus makes these things possible and in doing so finds a correspondence between real numbers and the real world is the subject of this dazzling book by a writer of extraordinary clarity and stylistic brio. Even as he initiates us into the mysteries of real numbers, functions, and limits, Berlinski explores the furthest implications of his subject, revealing how the calculus reconciles the precision of numbers with the fluidity of the changing universe.

"An odd and tantalizing book by a writer who takes immense pleasure in this great mathematical tool, and tries to create it in others."--New York Times Book Review

About the Author

David Berlinski holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is the bestselling author of such books as A Tour of the Calculus, The Advent of the Algorithm, and Newton s Gift. A senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and a former fellow at the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, Berlinski writes frequently for Commentary, among other journals. He lives in Paris.

Customer Reviews

2.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Berlinski has clearly decided that he wants to avoid the stereotypical mathematical tradition that has texts be as terse as possible. He has erred too far in the other direction. Good science writing doesn't need to imagine Leibniz groping serving maids. It doesn't need to invent overly elaborate language and metaphors.
At least the technical stuff is basically good. I liked his description of what continuous-ness is all about, and the (presumably fictionalised) accounts of teaching the material to small classes are quite entertaining.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The point of this book, like another by Berlinski (One, Two, Three) is overwhelmed by his unnecessary, floridly descriptive narratives and pointless references to his supernatural beliefs. It's a ramble. If you want to learn about maths, read De Sautoy et al.
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Format: Hardcover
This book goes well into the mental rigour of the calculus and hence shows the thorough underlieing logic and mental disciplin of its developement and useage. However, the author can occasionally be overelaborate in his language and story-telling. This sometimes makes the book seem like a novel. However there are some good appendixes containing mathematical proofs which contain more mathematics than linguistic flair. An interesting read for the pre A level student or the first year a level student really.
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Format: Paperback
The two stars are for the technical content, which is basically sound. But I can't give any stars for Berlinski's writing style. It's as though he's trying (far too hard) to write a classic novel with some maths in it. The idea of conveying some fairly complex maths by using flowery, descriptive, even evocative language is in principle an interesting one, but the prose is so purple as to make it hard to make out what point he's trying to make, and in many places obscures the meaning completely. If you want to read purple prose, try Tolstoy. If you want to understand calculus, try the Open University. Either way, don't bother with this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa03b0564) out of 5 stars 163 reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0373dd4) out of 5 stars I love this book! 6 Oct. 2005
By Mockingbird - Published on
Format: Paperback
I seem to be rather in the minority when I say that I actually liked Berlinski's verbose style; frankly, I don't really see what was so difficult to understand about it. On the other hand, I approached this book from the position of wanting something fun to read, and that's what I got, with the welcome addition of what I thought was lovely writing - if I had been searching for something that would give me an in-depth look at calculus, I would have looked elsewhere. Basically, I thought the book was really well-written and exciting (I had just begun calculus when I read it, so I found it really interesting to look at all the stuff we hadn't yet done.), and I highly reccomend it for a piece of fun reading and a decent overview.
132 of 161 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa058fbe8) out of 5 stars Mathematically poor and stylistically overdone 5 Sept. 1999
By Michael Maltenfort ( - Published on
Format: Paperback
I hoped for an insightful view into calculus. Indeed, there are many deep and interesting aspects of calculus which are generally obscured in a typical calculus textbook (or in a calculus class). This is not such a book.
Most disappointing was the constant distraction of mathematical errors, small and large, throughout the book. For example, there are typos, errors in notation, and misleading or confusing notation. For these problems, I understood the author's intention at these points (being a calculus teacher myself), but to a reader less familiar with calculus, these problems will hinder understanding. When a reader can't understand the mathematical details, much of the meaning is lost.
A few errors were utterly irreparable, such as the proof of the Intermediate Value Theorem. In that case, a correct proof would diverge greatly from that of the author. This specific error is unfortunate because it is for this theorem that the author develops the real numbers (which takes chapters), and upon this theorem that all later theorems are based.
Finally, I found the author's style annoying, especially the fictional accounts of specific actions taken by historical mathematicians (crossing a river, contemplating calculus while sitting in an overstuffed chair, etc.). The author must enjoy hearing himself wax poetic on any subject which enters his head, but I don't.
The book's back cover likens this book to Douglas Hofstadter's classic _Godel, Escher, Bach_, but the comparison is laughable. Hofstadter's book has a direct and clear style of writing, whereas _A Tour of the Calculus_ is unfocused and its numerous errors makes it is mathematically a sham.
45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
By Kevin Urban - Published on
Format: Paperback
By reading some of these reviews, one thing is obvious: anyone who first lists their qualifications as a mathematician or calculus teacher is basically going to nay-say the heck out of the book. And in a way, I'd say this is semi-appropriate: the book is definitely not a math book; I think the grievances arise basically because it's sold as one. Sure, the word "tour" is in the title, but that does little to suggest that this book would be more appropriately marketed as....well....a memoir? Maybe?

Don't get me wrong though: the book isn't absolutely terrible. Some commenters have derided the author for using words that are too big, widely unknown, etc. But that's one of the things I enjoyed about the book: a few years back when I read it I underlined every word I didn't know or was fuzzy about and used this book as a way to build my vocabulary. I wouldn't describe myself as a cheery optimist, but I definitely turned the heightened language of the book to my advantage...instead of just whining about it on Amazon.

As for learning calculus: if you are a new student to calculus, this book won't really help. I bought this book years ago as a supplement to my calculus course and quickly found I was just wasting my time reading it. If you are a non-mathematician and just want a little glimpse into calculus, then this might be a good book. I would laugh at anyone who said they learned calculus from the book though.

In other news (finally, my qualifications...bla, bla, bla): since I've bought the book, I've taken all the calc and differential equations courses, abstract and linear algebra courses, analysis courses, graduated with a degree in physics and have completed one year of graduate school physics. With this in mind: Upon re-reading sections of the book recently, I would say that this is a pretty fun SUMMER READ for super nerds who already know it all, but just want to leisurely read about some elementary calculus by an author who writes in a conversational tone.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa066d60c) out of 5 stars Hugely Disappointing 17 Oct. 2001
By dd9000 - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am not a mathematician. I took calculus in college but never really understood it. I have, however, always wanted to understand it.
This book got glowing reviews so I bought it without leafing through it. My mistake. Compared to Berlinsky's book, the average college calculus textbook is a model of clarity.
Berlinsky is infatuated with words. He's never heard of a simple declarative sentence. One metaphor per sentence isn't enough. Indeed, if there is a literary conceit he doesn't indulge in to excess, I can't think of it.
His editor should have required him to read Strunk and White's Elements of Style daily for a year.
In short, as far as I am concerned, the other negative reviews I have read here are not only right on the money but not harsh enough.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa066d7bc) out of 5 stars pretentious drivel obscures a beautiful topic 7 Aug. 2001
By Al Vermeulen - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book has good potential - explain in a non-technical way the fundamental theorem of calculus, why it is important, and the history of it's development. The mathematicians who discovered and refined calculus are a fascinating lot, and the mathematics itself has proven to be perhaps the most effective engineering tool yet discovered. Sounds like good stuff. Unfortunately, Berlinski choose to shroud this simple theme in page after page of self-important, over-written, pretentious drivel. One of the reviews on the jacket puts this book in the same category as Godel, Escher, Bach - holy smokes! Nothing could be further from the truth. Buy GEB, stay away from this book!
I give him 2 stars instead of one because the material underlying the terrible writing is interesting and worth knowing. Hopefully someone will write a readable book on this material!
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