e: The Story of a Number

Princeton Science Library

Book 41
Princeton University Press
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The interest earned on a bank account, the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, and the shape of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis are all intimately connected with the mysterious number e. In this informal and engaging history, Eli Maor portrays the curious characters and the elegant mathematics that lie behind the number. Designed for a reader with only a modest mathematical background, this biography brings out the central importance of e to mathematics and illuminates a golden era in the age of science.
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About the author

Eli Maor is the author of Beautiful Geometry (with Eugen Jost), Venus in Transit, Trigonometric Delights, To Infinity and Beyond, and The Pythagorean Theorem: A 4,000-Year History (all Princeton).
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6 total

Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 12, 2011
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Mathematics / History & Philosophy
Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Today complex numbers have such widespread practical use--from electrical engineering to aeronautics--that few people would expect the story behind their derivation to be filled with adventure and enigma. In An Imaginary Tale, Paul Nahin tells the 2000-year-old history of one of mathematics' most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one, also known as i. He recreates the baffling mathematical problems that conjured it up, and the colorful characters who tried to solve them.

In 1878, when two brothers stole a mathematical papyrus from the ancient Egyptian burial site in the Valley of Kings, they led scholars to the earliest known occurrence of the square root of a negative number. The papyrus offered a specific numerical example of how to calculate the volume of a truncated square pyramid, which implied the need for i. In the first century, the mathematician-engineer Heron of Alexandria encountered I in a separate project, but fudged the arithmetic; medieval mathematicians stumbled upon the concept while grappling with the meaning of negative numbers, but dismissed their square roots as nonsense. By the time of Descartes, a theoretical use for these elusive square roots--now called "imaginary numbers"--was suspected, but efforts to solve them led to intense, bitter debates. The notorious i finally won acceptance and was put to use in complex analysis and theoretical physics in Napoleonic times.

Addressing readers with both a general and scholarly interest in mathematics, Nahin weaves into this narrative entertaining historical facts and mathematical discussions, including the application of complex numbers and functions to important problems, such as Kepler's laws of planetary motion and ac electrical circuits. This book can be read as an engaging history, almost a biography, of one of the most evasive and pervasive "numbers" in all of mathematics.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

How music has influenced mathematics, physics, and astronomy from ancient Greece to the twentieth century

Music is filled with mathematical elements, the works of Bach are often said to possess a math-like logic, and Igor Stravinsky said "musical form is close to mathematics," while Arnold Schoenberg, Iannis Xenakis, and Karlheinz Stockhausen went further, writing music explicitly based on mathematical principles. Yet Eli Maor argues that music has influenced math at least as much as math has influenced music. Starting with Pythagoras, proceeding through the work of Schoenberg, and ending with contemporary string theory, Music by the Numbers tells a fascinating story of composers, scientists, inventors, and eccentrics who played a role in the age-old relationship between music, mathematics, and the sciences, especially physics and astronomy.

Music by the Numbers explores key moments in this history, particularly how problems originating in music have inspired mathematicians for centuries. Perhaps the most famous of these problems is the vibrating string, which pitted some of the greatest mathematicians of the eighteenth century against each other in a debate that lasted more than fifty years and that eventually led to the development of post-calculus mathematics. Other highlights in the book include a comparison between meter in music and metric in geometry, complete with examples of rhythmic patterns from Bach to Stravinsky, and an exploration of a suggestive twentieth-century development: the nearly simultaneous emergence of Einstein's theory of relativity and Schoenberg's twelve-tone system.

Weaving these compelling historical episodes with Maor's personal reflections as a mathematician and lover of classical music, Music by the Numbers will delight anyone who loves mathematics and music.

The Freakonomics of math—a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do—the whole world is shot through with it.

Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It’s a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does “public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?

How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematician’s method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman—minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t figure out about you, and the existence of God.

Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.
The human impact on Earth's climate is often treated as a hundred-year issue lasting as far into the future as 2100, the year in which most climate projections cease. In The Long Thaw, David Archer, one of the world’s leading climatologists, reveals the hard truth that these changes in climate will be "locked in," essentially forever.

If you think that global warming means slightly hotter weather and a modest rise in sea levels that will persist only so long as fossil fuels hold out (or until we decide to stop burning them), think again. In The Long Thaw, David Archer predicts that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide we may eventually cancel the next ice age and raise the oceans by 50 meters. A human-driven, planet-wide thaw has already begun, and will continue to impact Earth’s climate and sea level for hundreds of thousands of years. The great ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland may take more than a century to melt, and the overall change in sea level will be one hundred times what is forecast for 2100. By comparing the global warming projection for the next century to natural climate changes of the distant past, and then looking into the future far beyond the usual scientific and political horizon of the year 2100, Archer reveals the hard truths of the long-term climate forecast.

Archer shows how just a few centuries of fossil-fuel use will cause not only a climate storm that will last a few hundred years, but dramatic climate changes that will last thousands. Carbon dioxide emitted today will be a problem for millennia. For the first time, humans have become major players in shaping the long-term climate. In fact, a planetwide thaw driven by humans has already begun. But despite the seriousness of the situation, Archer argues that it is still not too late to avert dangerous climate change--if humans can find a way to cooperate as never before.

Revealing why carbon dioxide may be an even worse gamble in the long run than in the short, this compelling and critically important book brings the best long-term climate science to a general audience for the first time.

With a new preface that discusses recent advances in climate science, and the impact on global warming and climate change, The Long Thaw shows that it is still not too late to avert dangerous climate change—if we can find a way to cooperate as never before.

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