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King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry
     

King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry

by Siobhan Roberts
 

“There is perhaps no better way to prepare for the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow than to learn the language of geometry.” —Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe

The word “geometry” brings to mind an array of mathematical images: circles, triangles, the Pythagorean Theorem. Yet geometry is so much more

Overview

“There is perhaps no better way to prepare for the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow than to learn the language of geometry.” —Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe

The word “geometry” brings to mind an array of mathematical images: circles, triangles, the Pythagorean Theorem. Yet geometry is so much more than shapes and numbers; indeed, it governs much of our lives—from architecture and microchips to car design, animated movies, the molecules of food, even our own body chemistry. And as Siobhan Roberts elegantly conveys in The King of Infinite Space, there can be no better guide to the majesty of geometry than Donald Coxeter, perhaps the greatest geometer of the twentieth century.

Many of the greatest names in intellectual history—Pythagoras, Plato, Archimedes, Euclid— were geometers, and their creativity and achievements illuminate those of Coxeter, revealing geometry to be a living, ever-evolving endeavor, an intellectual adventure that has always been a building block of civilization. Coxeter’s special contributions—his famed Coxeter groups and Coxeter diagrams—have been called by other mathematicians “tools as essential as numbers themselves,” but his greatest achievement was to almost single-handedly preserve the tradition of classical geometry when it was under attack in a mathematical era that valued all things austere and rational.

Coxeter also inspired many outside the field of mathematics. Artist M. C. Escher credited Coxeter with triggering his legendary Circle Limit patterns, while futurist/inventor Buckminster Fuller acknowledged that his famedgeodesic dome owed much to Coxeter’s vision. The King of Infinite Space is an elegant portal into the fascinating, arcane world of geometry.

"King of Infinite Space gives us a lively view of the history of mathematics while weaving the story of Donald Coxeter, a broad-minded genius who built an important bridge between two opposite extremes of mathematical creation—the pictorial world of classical geometry and the ideal world of abstract algebra."—Freeman Dyson, author of Disturbing the Universe

"What emerges loud and clear in King of Infinite Space is that Siobhan Roberts understands Coxeter's spirit very deeply . . . and she knows just how to put in words the fire that always inhabits a great mathematician's soul."—Douglas Hofstadter, author of Godel, Escher, Bach, from the Foreword

"A biography of Donald Coxeter has long been overdue. Now Siobhan Roberts has provided one, and a marvelous book it is. King of Infinite Space covers all of Coxeter's major achievements, and in words any reader can understand. Her beautifully written tribute is rich in details about Coxeter's long life, and his colorful interactions with the world's top mathematicians. I found it impossible to stop reading."—Martin Gardner, author of The Ambidextrous Universe

Editorial Reviews

Siobhan Roberts
Every mathematical biographer faces the same vexing problem: Mathematicians spend their lives sitting at a desk and writing in a notebook. Occasionally they switch desks. There are exceptions -- �variste Galois dying at 20 in a duel, John Nash succumbing to and subsequently emerging from psychosis -- but Donald Coxeter was not an exception. He earned his PhD, married his first girlfriend and settled into a professorship at the University of Toronto, where he stayed from 1936 until his death in 2003, at the age of 96. If there's an interesting story to be drawn from his life, it's a story about the history of ideas -- more precisely, about the history of geometry.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
During the latter half of the 20th century, geometry largely fell out of favor within the mathematical community. As Canadian journalist Roberts so well describes in her first book, Donald Coxeter (1907-2003), a University of Toronto mathematician, almost singlehandedly preserved and advanced the discipline through hard work and acute insights. His impact has been felt in a wide variety of fields and acknowledged by the likes of Buckminster Fuller and M.C. Escher. Coxeter also helped transform mathematics education to bring geometry back into the mainstream. This change is critical because, as Roberts explains, a robust understanding of geometry is essential for progress in disciplines from crystallography to cosmology, and from video graphics to immunology. Given Coxeter's long life and career, his biography, in large part, tells the story of mathematics in the 20th century as well as a human portrait of a man who-despite his royal title-was a "humble, hands-on geometer." Roberts, who won a National Magazine Award for a Toronto Life profile of Coxeter, puts most of the technical material in appendixes, so the text is readily accessible to a general audience. 70 b&w photos and diagrams. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
H.M.S. (Donald) Coxeter (1907-2002) was widely recognized and honored by his peers as the greatest living geometer. He was a prolific writer, publishing 12 books and more than 200 papers while at Cambridge, Princeton, and-for 67 years-the University of Toronto. He influenced prominent researchers, artists, and architects while pursuing theoretical and applied mathematical concepts of space, time, and shape. Canadian journalist Roberts, who won a National Magazine Award for her profile of Coxeter in Toronto Life, uses diaries, interviews, notes, personal vignettes, and stories to depict vividly Coxeter's passion for music, art, mathematics, life in general, and all things of beauty. In addition to successfully crafting a poignant biography, she accurately documents 20th-century mathematical research and scholarship. The author is to be congratulated on the book's simplicity; completeness; excellent use of diagrams, figures, and photographs; appendixes of mathematical notes; and reams of endnotes. A significant work for mathematicians at all levels; recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Ian D. Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780887842016
Publisher:
Anansi Productions
Publication date:
01/01/2006
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.63(h) x 1.13(d)

Meet the Author

Siobhan Roberts is a journalist, and won a National Magazine Award for her profile of Donald Coxeter in Toronto, and this is her first book.

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