The Irrationals: A Story of the Numbers You Can't Count On

Princeton University Press
3
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The ancient Greeks discovered them, but it wasn't until the nineteenth century that irrational numbers were properly understood and rigorously defined, and even today not all their mysteries have been revealed. In The Irrationals, the first popular and comprehensive book on the subject, Julian Havil tells the story of irrational numbers and the mathematicians who have tackled their challenges, from antiquity to the twenty-first century. Along the way, he explains why irrational numbers are surprisingly difficult to define—and why so many questions still surround them. Fascinating and illuminating, this is a book for everyone who loves math and the history behind it.
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About the author

Julian Havil is the author of Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant, Nonplussed!: Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas, Impossible?: Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums, and John Napier: Life, Logarithms, and Legacy (all Princeton). He is a retired former master at Winchester College, England, where he taught mathematics for more than three decades.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 22, 2012
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Pages
312
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ISBN
9781400841707
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Language
English
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Genres
Mathematics / General
Mathematics / History & Philosophy
Mathematics / Number Theory
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.

John Napier (1550–1617) is celebrated today as the man who invented logarithms—an enormous intellectual achievement that would soon lead to the development of their mechanical equivalent in the slide rule: the two would serve humanity as the principal means of calculation until the mid-1970s. Yet, despite Napier's pioneering efforts, his life and work have not attracted detailed modern scrutiny. John Napier is the first contemporary biography to take an in-depth look at the multiple facets of Napier’s story: his privileged position as the eighth Laird of Merchiston and the son of influential Scottish landowners; his reputation as a magician who dabbled in alchemy; his interest in agriculture; his involvement with a notorious outlaw; his staunch anti-Catholic beliefs; his interactions with such peers as Henry Briggs, Johannes Kepler, and Tycho Brahe; and, most notably, his estimable mathematical legacy.

Julian Havil explores Napier’s original development of logarithms, the motivations for his approach, and the reasons behind certain adjustments to them. Napier’s inventive mathematical ideas also include formulas for solving spherical triangles, "Napier’s Bones" (a more basic but extremely popular alternative device for calculation), and the use of decimal notation for fractions and binary arithmetic. Havil also considers Napier’s study of the Book of Revelation, which led to his prediction of the Apocalypse in his first book, A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John—the work for which Napier believed he would be most remembered.

John Napier assesses one man’s life and the lasting influence of his advancements on the mathematical sciences and beyond.

Mathematicians solve equations, or try to. But sometimes the solutions are not as interesting as the beautiful symmetric patterns that lead to them. Written in a friendly style for a general audience, Fearless Symmetry is the first popular math book to discuss these elegant and mysterious patterns and the ingenious techniques mathematicians use to uncover them.

Hidden symmetries were first discovered nearly two hundred years ago by French mathematician évariste Galois. They have been used extensively in the oldest and largest branch of mathematics--number theory--for such diverse applications as acoustics, radar, and codes and ciphers. They have also been employed in the study of Fibonacci numbers and to attack well-known problems such as Fermat's Last Theorem, Pythagorean Triples, and the ever-elusive Riemann Hypothesis. Mathematicians are still devising techniques for teasing out these mysterious patterns, and their uses are limited only by the imagination.


The first popular book to address representation theory and reciprocity laws, Fearless Symmetry focuses on how mathematicians solve equations and prove theorems. It discusses rules of math and why they are just as important as those in any games one might play. The book starts with basic properties of integers and permutations and reaches current research in number theory. Along the way, it takes delightful historical and philosophical digressions. Required reading for all math buffs, the book will appeal to anyone curious about popular mathematics and its myriad contributions to everyday life.

John Napier (1550–1617) is celebrated today as the man who invented logarithms—an enormous intellectual achievement that would soon lead to the development of their mechanical equivalent in the slide rule: the two would serve humanity as the principal means of calculation until the mid-1970s. Yet, despite Napier's pioneering efforts, his life and work have not attracted detailed modern scrutiny. John Napier is the first contemporary biography to take an in-depth look at the multiple facets of Napier’s story: his privileged position as the eighth Laird of Merchiston and the son of influential Scottish landowners; his reputation as a magician who dabbled in alchemy; his interest in agriculture; his involvement with a notorious outlaw; his staunch anti-Catholic beliefs; his interactions with such peers as Henry Briggs, Johannes Kepler, and Tycho Brahe; and, most notably, his estimable mathematical legacy.

Julian Havil explores Napier’s original development of logarithms, the motivations for his approach, and the reasons behind certain adjustments to them. Napier’s inventive mathematical ideas also include formulas for solving spherical triangles, "Napier’s Bones" (a more basic but extremely popular alternative device for calculation), and the use of decimal notation for fractions and binary arithmetic. Havil also considers Napier’s study of the Book of Revelation, which led to his prediction of the Apocalypse in his first book, A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John—the work for which Napier believed he would be most remembered.

John Napier assesses one man’s life and the lasting influence of his advancements on the mathematical sciences and beyond.

In Nonplussed!, popular-math writer Julian Havil delighted readers with a mind-boggling array of implausible yet true mathematical paradoxes. Now Havil is back with Impossible?, another marvelous medley of the utterly confusing, profound, and unbelievable--and all of it mathematically irrefutable.

Whenever Forty-second Street in New York is temporarily closed, traffic doesn't gridlock but flows more smoothly--why is that? Or consider that cities that build new roads can experience dramatic increases in traffic congestion--how is this possible? What does the game show Let's Make A Deal reveal about the unexpected hazards of decision-making? What can the game of cricket teach us about the surprising behavior of the law of averages? These are some of the counterintuitive mathematical occurrences that readers encounter in Impossible?
?


Havil ventures further than ever into territory where intuition can lead one astray. He gathers entertaining problems from probability and statistics along with an eclectic variety of conundrums and puzzlers from other areas of mathematics, including classics of abstract math like the Banach-Tarski paradox. These problems range in difficulty from easy to highly challenging, yet they can be tackled by anyone with a background in calculus. And the fascinating history and personalities associated with many of the problems are included with their mathematical proofs. Impossible? will delight anyone who wants to have their reason thoroughly confounded in the most astonishing and unpredictable ways.

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