As grandfather and grandson struggle with the question of whether there can ever be absolute certainty in mathematics or life, they are forced to reconsider their fundamental beliefs and choices. Their stories hinge on their explorations of parallel developments in the study of geometry and infinity--and the mathematics throughout is as rigorous and fascinating as the narrative and characters are compelling and complex.
Moving and enlightening, A Certain Ambiguity is a story about what it means to face the extent--and the limits--of human knowledge.
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.
The intrigue begins when Jule Davidson, a young American mathematician who trolls the internet for difficult math riddles and stumbles upon a neo-Pythagorean sect searching for the promised reincarnation of Pythagoras. Across the ocean, Elmer Galway, a professor of classical history at Oxford, discovers an Arabic manuscript hinting at the existence of an ancient scroll--possibly left by Pythagoras himself. Unknown to one another, Jule and Elmer each have information that the other requires and, as they race to solve the philosophical and mathematical puzzles set before them, their paths ultimately collide. Set in 1998 with flashbacks to classical Greece, Pythagoras' Revenge investigates the confrontation between opposing views of mathematics and reality, and explores ideas from both early and cutting-edge mathematics.
From academic Oxford to suburban Chicago and historic Rome, Pythagoras' Revenge is a sophisticated thriller that will grip readers from beginning to surprising end.
An immediate bestseller when first published in France, The Parrot's Theorem charmingly combines a straightforward history of mathematics and a first-rate murder mystery.
A book unlike any other, Circles Disturbed delves into topics such as the way in which historical and biographical narratives shape our understanding of mathematics and mathematicians, the development of "myths of origins" in mathematics, the structure and importance of mathematical dreams, the role of storytelling in the formation of mathematical intuitions, the ways mathematics helps us organize the way we think about narrative structure, and much more.
In addition to the editors, the contributors are Amir Alexander, David Corfield, Peter Galison, Timothy Gowers, Michael Harris, David Herman, Federica La Nave, G.E.R. Lloyd, Uri Margolin, Colin McLarty, Jan Christoph Meister, Arkady Plotnitsky, and Bernard Teissier.