From the Publisher
Curt Suplee The Washington Post High-spirited, splendidly lucid and often hilarious.
Michael Guillen author of Five Equations That Changed the World How often can you say that a book on math on math! is a real page-turner? Well, this one is. As engaging as a soap opera, as fascinating as a whodunit, as funny as the Sunday comics, Mlodinow's book is storytelling at its best.
Brian Greene author of The Elegant Universe There is perhaps no better way to prepare for the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow than to learn the language of geometry, and Euclid's Window makes this task lively and enjoyable.
A former faculty member at the California Institute of Technology and writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Leonard Mlodinow has written an entertaining and completely accessible history of geometry, from its beginnings as a method of calculating landholdings for ancient Egyptian tax collectors to the modern geometry of string theory.
Halfway through this articulate and droll history of math and physics, you wonder: Who is this guy ... you want to recommend to all your friends? .... Splendid exposition, accessible to the mathematically challenged as well as the mathematically inclined.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mlodinow's background in physics and educational CD-ROMs fails to gel in this episodic history of five "revolutions in geometry," each presented around a central figure. The first four Euclid, Descartes, Gauss and Einstein are landmarks, while the fifth, Edward Witten, should join their ranks if and when his M-theory produces its promised grand unification of all fundamental forces and particles. Mlodinow conveys a sense of excitement about geometry's importance in human thought, but sloppiness and distracting patter combine with slipshod presentation to bestow a feel for, rather than a grasp of, the subject. Certain misses are peripheral but annoying nonetheless confusing Keats with Blake, repeating a discredited account of Georg Cantor's depression, etc. Some of them, however, undermine the heart of the book's argument. Strictly speaking, Descartes, Einstein and Witten didn't produce revolutions in geometry but rather in how it's related to other subjects, while Gauss arguably produced two revolutions, one of which non-Euclidean geometry is featured, while the other differential geometry though equally necessary for Einstein's subsequent breakthrough, is barely developed. Mlodinow completely ignores another revolution in geometry, the development of topology, despite its crucial role in Witten's work. Occasionally Mlodinow delivers succinct explanations that convey key insights in easily graspable form, but far more often he tells jokes and avoids the issue, giving the false, probably unintentional impression that the subject itself is dull or inaccessible. More substance and less speculation about the Greeks could have laid the foundations for an equally spirited but far more informative book. 11 figures, two not seen by PW. (Apr.) Forecast: The Free Press may be looking for a math popularizer in the mold of Amir Aczel, but Mlodinow falls short. Don't look for big sales here. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Euclid's work [is] a work of beauty whose impact rivaled that of the Bible, whose ideas were as radical as those of Marx and Engels. For with his book Elements Euclid opened a window through which the nature of our universe has been revealed." Strong words, but Mlodinow backs them up with this surprisingly exciting history of how mathematicians and physicists discovered geometric space beyond Euclid's three dimensions. Each advance in mathematical geometry has been followed by unexpected discoveries proving that the strange mathematics actually describe measurable physical properties. Mlodinow, a physicist and a former faculty member at the California Institute of Technology, has also written TV screenplays for Star Trek: The Next Generation and other shows. He has a good sense of popular science writing, and he personalizes geometric abstractions by endowing them with the personalities of his adolescent sons, Alexei and Nicholai. Euclid, Descartes, Gauss, Einstein, and Witten are among the mathematicians profiled, and each of them also emerges with a distinct personality based on the style of their writing and historical anecdotes. This engaging history does an excellent job of explaining the importance of the study of geometry without making the reader learn any geometry. For all math and science collections. Amy Brunvand, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: The First Revolution
Euclid was a man who possibly did not discover even one significant law of geometry. Yet he is the most famous geometer ever known and for good reason: for millennia it has been his window that people first look through when they view geometry. Here and now, he is our poster boy for the first great revolution in the concept of space the birth of abstraction, and the idea of proof.
The concept of space began, naturally enough, as a concept of place, our place, earth. It began with a development the Egyptians and Babylonians called "earth measurement." The Greek word for that is geometry, but the subjects are not at all alike. The Greeks were the first to realize that nature could be understood employing mathematics that geometry could be applied to reveal, not merely to describe. Evolving geometry from simple descriptions of stone and sand, the Greeks extracted the ideals of point, line, and plane. Stripping away the window-dressing of matter, they uncovered a structure possessing a beauty civilization had never before seen. At the climax of this struggle to invent mathematics stands Euclid. The story of Euclid is a story of revolution. It is the story of the axiom, the theorem, the proof, the story of the birth of reason itself.
Copyright © 2001 by Leonard Mlodinow