A Strange Wilderness: The Lives of the Great Mathematicians


“Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.”
-- Mathematics historian W. S. Anglin
From the internationally bestselling author of Fermat's Last Theorem comes a landmark publication on the eccentric lives of the foremost mathematicians in ...
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A Strange Wilderness: The Lives of the Great Mathematicians

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“Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.”
-- Mathematics historian W. S. Anglin
From the internationally bestselling author of Fermat's Last Theorem comes a landmark publication on the eccentric lives of the foremost mathematicians in history.
From Archimedes' eureka moment to Alexander Grothendieck's seclusion in the Pyrenees, bestselling author Amir Aczel selects the most compelling stories in the history of mathematics, creating a colorful narrative that explores the quirky personalities behind some of the most groundbreaking, enduring theorems.
This is not your dry “college textbook” account of mathematical history; it bristles with tales of duels, battlefield heroism, flamboyant arrogance, pranks, secret societies, imprisonment, feuds, theft, and some very costly errors of judgment. (Clearly, genius doesn't guarantee street smarts.) Ultimately, readers will come away entertained, and with a newfound appreciation of the tenacity, complexity, eccentricity, and brilliance of the mathematical genius.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

To his slew of science bestsellers (Present at the Creation; God's Equation; Descartes' Secret Notebook), Amir Aczel now adds a history of great mathematicians that will finally convince readers that math is not a dull topic. In Aczel's capable hands, the story of the discipline's development becomes a multi-threaded narrative of brilliance, eccentricity, chicanery, and serendipity. Irresistibly quirky.

Publishers Weekly
Prolific science writer Aczel offers a grab bag of biographical sketches of important mathematicians: starting with the “rope-pullers” in ancient Egypt, who determined property lines for farmers’ fields after the Nile floods receded each spring. Included is the story of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, first in a long line of mathematicians and scientists (Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Cantor—to name a few) whose groundbreaking work earned professional scorn and charges of heresy. During Europe’s Dark Ages, progress came from Arabs like Al-Khwarizmi, the man who popularized algebra and the numerals we use today. Some of the history is muddled: Aczel attributes the invention of calculus to both Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton, without clarifying how their two approaches differed. Thanks to better documentation, more recent figures have much richer biographies, but most of Aczel’s synopses lack real eccentricity, which comes as a disappointment after he enthuses about math’s “fascinating subculture with its own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies” in the preface. The book works best as an episodic overview of important names in the field and the context in which they worked. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Popular science writer Aczel (research fellow, Boston Univ.; Fermat's Last Theorem) outlines in his latest title some of the greatest mathematical achievements in human history. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, Aczel makes his way to the 20th century, recounting mathematical discoveries through the biographies of great mathematicians. Giants of Western thought—Pythagoras, Descartes, Newton, Cantor—appear here as do lesser-known mathematicians like Li Zhi of medieval China and Emmy Noether of Nazi-era Germany. Throughout, Aczel is an engaging narrator, supplying explanations of mathematical theory for the uninitiated and placing each discovery within its very human context. Divided by mathematician and prominent theory, the book could be read as a complete narrative or by topic. VERDICT This book offers something to readers interested in both science and the humanities. Recommended as a brief but tantalizing introduction to the history of mathematics.—Talea Anderson, Walla Walla, WA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402785849
  • Publisher: Sterling
  • Publication date: 10/4/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 954,481
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Amir D. Aczel is the author of a dozen nonfiction books on the subjects of science and mathematics, most of which have appeared on various bestseller lists in the United States and abroad. He has appeared on more than 50 television programs, including nationwide appearances on the History Channel, CBS Evening News, CNN, CNBC, Nightline, and on more than 200 radio programs. His science articles have been published in such major periodicals as Scientific American, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Jerusalem Post, and London Times. Aczel is a Guggenheim Fellow and a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University.
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