An engaging survey of the ideas that have been thought of as Pythagorean.” A Gottlieb, A Gottlieb, Wall St. Journal
“a many-layered palimpsest that Ferguson expertly deciphers.” Ben Longstaff, New Scientist
“The beauty of Ferguson's exploration is her expression of this seduction through time and civilizations up to the scientific present… A lively narrative and a bounty of information make Ferguson a must in popular mathematics.” Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“…comes on like a good friend bursting with some amazing thing she can't wait to share (the passages on Bertrand Russell are particularly sharp and funny….winning, accessible and intermittently fascinating.” Publishers Weekly
“A stimulating, wide-ranging look at how the Greek mathematician and philosopher's key insights have been at the heart of an enormous range of subsequent thought.” Kirkus Reviews
“Her skill in explaining complex astronomical problems and procedures clearly and succinctly is nothing short of amazing.” Philadelphia Inquirer on Tycho & Kepler
“In Tycho & Kepler, we are given a sense of science as a quintessentially human activity, conducted by living, breathing and distinctly idiosyncratic subjects.” Los Angeles Times (one of the Best Books of 2003) on Tycho & Kepler
“Ferguson shows beautifully how the obsessions of the pragmatic, imperious Brahe meshed perfectly with those of the idealistic, pensive Kepler.” Natural History on Tycho & Kepler
"There is geometry in the humming of the strings and music in the spacing of the spheres." Much of his writings seem more like poetry than philosophy, but Pythagoras (c.570-c.490 B.C.) left an indelible imprint on history. Indeed, according to Diogenes Laertius, the Greek mathematician was not only the first philosopher; he invented the term. Arthur Koestler went even further, claiming that "Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him." Kitty Ferguson's arresting book not only places the this great thinker within his world; it delineates his vast posthumous influence.
The task Ferguson (Tycho & Kepler) takes on is formidable: to describe not only the ancient Greek mathematician and mystic Pythagoras, but also the entire sweep of the Pythagorean legacy, from his time to ours. Even if the book's subtitle is never quite justified, she has largely succeeded. This chatty and readable account bites off great chunks of history and science, from Platonists to string theory. No matter how engaging, however, the book still reads more like a series of facts than a coherent narrative. Best when she comes on like a good friend bursting with some amazing thing she can't wait to share (the passages on Bertrand Russell are particularly sharp and funny), Ferguson has a tendency to punt when a concept becomes difficult to explain; rather than delve into a piece of ancient geometry called the Delian problem, she says, "[a] lengthy text is needed to understand it." Ferguson concludes with banal generalizations about faith versus science. Still, the book is winning, accessible and intermittently fascinating. B&w illus. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Through the insightful eyes of popular science writer Ferguson (Tycho & Kepler; Measuring the Universe), readers glimpse the enormous impact of the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras and his followers and the ideas gathered around them. She describes the mythology that surrounded Pythagoras, as well as the facts behind the man, and how those myths changed over time but continued to influence natural inquiry. Covering thinkers from Aristotle to Kepler, Ferguson shows how Pythagorean themes played a role in their developing new ideas. This work is a joy to read and would be welcome in academic libraries and large public libraries. It is important to note that Ferguson's book is far more than a biography and cannot be compared with biographical works such as Christoph Riedweg's popular Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching, and Influence.-
Eric D. Albright
A stimulating, wide-ranging look at how the Greek mathematician and philosopher's key insights have been at the heart of an enormous range of subsequent thought. Mention Pythagoras and most people think of the geometrical theorem that bears his name. Science writer Ferguson (Tycho & Kepler, 2003, etc.) shows how much more his ideas have meant to both science and philosophy. Biographical data is sparse: Pythagoras was probably born around 570 BCE on the Aegean isle Samos, studied in Asia and possibly Egypt and settled in Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy. There he founded a school of philosophy based on mathematics. A key discovery was that a vibrating string produces pleasing harmonies when divided into simple ratios. From this insight, the Pythagoreans posited that numbers lie behind all of nature. In particular, they believed in the music of the spheres, caused by the movement of the planets. They were also vegetarians and believed in reincarnation. Ferguson traces the ways in which later philosophers drew on their central ideas. Plato, who met some of Pythagoras's disciples during a visit to Italy, used a geometrical proof in one of his dialogues and was thought by his successors to have drawn heavily on Pythagorean doctrines. Plato's pervasive influence on later philosophers meant that Pythagorean ideas concerning mathematics were transmitted down the ages and can be found not only in philosophy, but in astronomy and the other exact sciences. This holds especially true for the music of the spheres, which was taken literally by no less a scientist than Kepler and served as an important metaphor for major poets into the 19th century. The Pythagorean faith in the mathematicalfoundation and ultimate comprehensibility of the universe played a key role in physics, from Newton through Einstein right up to today's string theories. Ferguson shows the main currents clearly, without complicated math, although readers with some knowledge of geometry and music theory are most likely to enjoy the book. Agent: Rita Rosenkranz/Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency