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Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics

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  • Posted July 10, 2014

    The Romantic side of mathematics is brought to life in this expl

    The Romantic side of mathematics is brought to life in this exploration of math history. Unexpected connections between mathematics, literature, and politics are illustrated by a short list of nineteenth century biographies. Prof. Alexander marvelously reminds us that mathematicians are more than the quiet, reclusive, socially inept nerds of the popular stereotype.

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  • Posted December 21, 2010

    Mixed Blessing

    Alexander has made an impressive effort to approach a change in the perception and function of mathematics, finding and using milestones (Galois, Abel, and Cauchy) to illustrate the events. Yet, in spite of a tremendous amount of research, Alexander fails to distinguish himself from other writers on the subject.

    What makes his book difficult to enjoy is the constant repetition of descriptive elements Alexander has identified for his main characters. Whilst revealing myths about Galois and his tragic death, his attempts to turn Cauchy from the "main culprit" hampering the advancement of Galois (and Abel) into a character that really deserves our sympathy because of his near revolutionary new approach towards the role and function of mathematics, are unpersuasive in that they fail to distinguish between Cauchy, the mathematician, and Cauchy, the individual.

    Whilst the first part of the book is virtually devoid of an explanation what contributions towards mathematics can actually be attributed to both Galois and Abel, the second part contains a collections of functions, the full significance of which Alexander neither explains nor fully understands. This leaves the reader stranded and wondering.

    This book lacks serious and constructive editing, and could have represented an impressive overview of "the time of change" if Alexander had drastically restricted himself to a narrative, and stripped out all repetitions and references to explanations, with which he lacks familiarity and comfort.

    There is enough substance in the book to warrant a second edition (if it were 150 pages shorter), but as it stands, it adds little to the wealth of writings that already exist on the subject.

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