The Cult of Pythagoras: Math and Myths

Overview

In this follow-up to his popular Science Secrets, Alberto A. Martínez discusses various popular myths from the history of mathematics: that Pythagoras proved the hypotenuse theorem, that Archimedes figured out how to test the purity of a gold crown while he was in a bathtub, that the Golden Ratio is in nature and ancient architecture, that the young Galois created group theory the night before the pistol duel that killed him, and more. Some stories are partly true, others are entirely false, but all show the ...

See more details below
Paperback (1)
$20.62
BN.com price
(Save 10%)$22.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (18) from $10.76   
  • New (13) from $14.19   
  • Used (5) from $10.44   
Sending request ...

Overview

In this follow-up to his popular Science Secrets, Alberto A. Martínez discusses various popular myths from the history of mathematics: that Pythagoras proved the hypotenuse theorem, that Archimedes figured out how to test the purity of a gold crown while he was in a bathtub, that the Golden Ratio is in nature and ancient architecture, that the young Galois created group theory the night before the pistol duel that killed him, and more. Some stories are partly true, others are entirely false, but all show the power of invention in history. Pythagoras emerges as a symbol of the urge to conjecture and “fill in the gaps” of history. He has been credited with fundamental discoveries in mathematics and the sciences, yet there is nearly no evidence that he really contributed anything to such fields at all. This book asks: how does history change when we subtract the many small exaggerations and interpolations that writers have added for over two thousand years?

The Cult of Pythagoras is also about invention in a positive sense. Most people view mathematical breakthroughs as “discoveries” rather than invention or creativity, believing that mathematics describes a realm of eternal ideas. But mathematicians have disagreed about what is possible and impossible, about what counts as a proof, and even about the results of certain operations. Was there ever invention in the history of concepts such as zero, negative numbers, imaginary numbers, quaternions, infinity, and infinitesimals?

Martínez inspects a wealth of primary sources, in several languages, over a span of many centuries. By exploring disagreements and ambiguities in the history of the elements of mathematics, The Cult of Pythagoras dispels myths that obscure the actual origins of mathematical concepts. Martínez argues that an accurate history that analyzes myths reveals neglected aspects of mathematics that can encourage creativity in students and mathematicians.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Martínez not only rigorously compares the exciting myths about Pythagoras with the sparse, and mostly contradictory, historical sources, he also explains why we have these myths and the purposes they serve. His book will be a natural first port of call for people who like to get this sort of thing right.“
 —Jeremy Gray, The Open University

“Mathematics is the last subject one would expect to be infested with mythology, but even mathematicians can fall for myths, particularly those concerning the history of their subject. In this delightful exposé, Alberto Martínez finally busts the many myths of math, and the results are both sobering and fascinating.”
—John C. Stillwell, University of San Francisco

“An engaging study.”

—Library Journal

“Martinez explains concepts like ‘imaginary numbers’ and ‘velocity calculation’ in a manner that makes them easy for even a non-math person to understand. . . . Discussions of complex mathematical concepts are where Martinez shines. . . . An unexpectedly engaging book on a subject often considered very dry. While the book will certainly be of interest to students and scholars of math, Martinez has situated the subject in broader themes of human nature in a way that will appeal to a much wider audience.”

—Texas Books in Review

Library Journal
Martínez (history, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Science Secrets: The Truth About Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths) explores the legends and myths of mathematics. Beginning with the many apocryphal stories linked to ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras over the centuries, Martínez documents how historical errors begin and propagate. He demonstrates how advances in geometry, algebra, and calculus were made by those willing to question the rules that govern mathematical operations. As conventions change, or new systems of mathematics are developed, answers to questions such as "Can you divide by zero?" or "What is the square root of -1?" change as well. Beyond authenticating or disproving myths, Martínez takes readers into the philosophical questions behind them, such as whether mathematicians are in the process of discovering something preexistent, inventing something new, or some combination of the two. VERDICT Overall, an engaging study for those interested in the history and pedagogy of science, though a level of familiarity with basic mathematics through calculus is assumed.—Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Libs., OH
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822962700
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 957,308
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alberto A. Martínez is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths, Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein's Relativity, and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Myths and Apparent Myths ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction xvii

1 Triangle Sacrifice to the Gods 1

2 An Irrational Murder at Sea 16

3 Ugly Old Socrates on Eternal Truth 29

4 The Death of Archimedes 43

5 Gauss, Galois, and the Golden Ratio 59

6 From Nothing to Infinity 82

7 Euler's Imaginary Mistakes 101

8 The Four of Pythagoras 113

9 The War over the Infinitely Small 134

10 Impossible Triangles 156

11 Inventing Mathematics? 181

12 The Cult of Pythagoras 201

Notes 217

Illustration Sources and Credits 257

Index 259

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)