Stewart (Infinity), professor of mathematics at Warwick University, tells the history of mathematics though 25 biographies of influential mathematicians. The selections are ordered chronologically, beginning with Archimedes (third century B.C.E.) and ending with Fields Medal–winning topologist William Thurston (1946–2012). In between, the contributions of Newton, Poincaré, Gödel, and Turing, along with those of lesser-known mathematical giants, are explored. Stewart treats the spotlighted mathematics seriously and his rigorous explanations often include explanatory equations and in-depth discussions of esoteric concepts. He also strives to underscore the impact and real-world importance of each of the mathematicians’ contributions. Stewart balances the demanding math with down-to-earth, even gossipy, thumbnail sketches of the mathematicians. For example, he offers that Newton may have invented the cat door; that George Boole, inventor of mathematical logic, loved his mother’s gooseberry pies; and that an aging, paranoid Gödel’s fear of being poisoned led him to starve himself to death. Stewart includes the mathematical accomplishments of three women, illuminating the obstacles each had to overcome to be accepted in the male-dominated field. Stewart folds into his biographies a broad swath of mathematics, including Euclidian and non-Euclidean geometries, set theory, calculus, algebra, and topology; readers with an affinity for math will find the material challenging and fun. Illus. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)
"Mathematics is the universal language, but some of its most prominent practitioners are forgotten figures-even though they've shaped our modern world. Significant
Figures walks through the lives and work of 25 great mathematicians, from Archimedes to William Thurston. It's a great primer for those interested in where our universal language of numbers comes from."-Popular Mechanics
"Stewart folds into his biographies a broad swath of mathematics, including Euclidian and non-Euclidean geometries, set theory, calculus, algebra, and topology; readers with an affinity for math will find the material challenging and fun."
"In Significant Figures, Ian Stewart brings mathematics to life with intriguing accounts of twenty-five extraordinary contributors to the field. His biographical sketches blend equal parts passion-love affairs and rivalries-with insights-groundbreaking discoveries-to offer vivid, complete portraits of his subjects. By showing how even mathematical geniuses face all-too-human challenges, Stewart offers a riveting chronicle of one of humankind's loftiest endeavors."
Paul Halpern, author The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality
"The biographies that appear here are interesting and accessible; anybody with an interest in mathematics or history would likely enjoy perusing them."-MAA Reviews
"One of the stated goals of this book is to dispel the idea that mathematicians are boring, and this delightful title goes a long way toward that aim."-Library Journal
"Stewart has written a worthy successor to
Bell's far-from-outdated classic [Men of Mathematics] one that may in time incline an even greater number of young readers to pursue careers in mathematics. Meanwhile, working professionals curious about the lesser-known masters profiled in the book, yet lacking the time or inclination to digest an entire biography, will find
Significant Figures both informative and entertaining."-SIAM News
"Part advanced math lesson and part history book, Stewart's celebration of seminal mathematicians and their findings will appeal to anyone who wants to better understand the building blocks of many of today's sciences."-Booklist
"Stewart is the least modish of writers, delivering new scholarship on ancient Chinese and Indian mathematics to supplement a well-rehearsed body of knowledge about the western tradition. A prolific writer himself, Stewart is good at identifying the audiences for mathematics at different periods."-Spectator
"A text for teachers, precocious students, and intellectually curious readers unafraid to tread unfamiliar territory and learn what mad pursuits inspire mathematicians."-Kirkus Reviews
"The search for mathematical truth, no matter how abstract, is ultimately carried out by flesh-and-blood people. In this readable book, Ian Stewart makes math accessible by humanizing its greatest practitioners, simultaneously illuminating who they were and the discoveries they made. You cannot read it without being struck by admiration for the driven souls who created mathematics over the centuries."-Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
"This beautifully written assemblage of the lives and work of the world's greatest mathematicians is both humbling and inspiring. Stewart shows with his typical clarity how the power of pure thought has shaped our world for over two millennia."-J.S. Al-Khalili, OBE, Professor of Physics, University of Surrey
Stewart shows us emphatically that great mathematicians have often also been public servants, political activists and expositors, not just lone geniuses or one-track minds. Mathematics for all its abstraction is a communal and human activity, and this is vividly captured in this fascinating whistlestop tour of the human lives behind the greatest mathematics in history."-Dr. Eugenia Cheng, Scientist In Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, author of How to Bake Pi and Beyond Infinity
"In his latest book, master mathematics expositor Ian Stewart delivers on his catchy title with succinct summaries of twenty-five of the most influential mathematicians of all time.... Stewart provides a concise overview of what has been hot in math at different times in the discipline's history. A great way for an outsider to get a sense of the huge historical arc of mathematical discoveries that has led to the mathematics-and the world-of today. I recommend it."-Keith Devlin, Stanford University, author of The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution and Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World
One of the stated goals of this book is to dispel the idea that mathematicians are boring, and this delightful title goes a long way toward that aim. In 25 brief chapters, Stewart (mathematics, Univ. of Warwick, UK; Infinity: A Very Short Introduction) profiles a wide range of renowned mathematicians, men and women, from many countries and educational backgrounds. The author provides capsule biographies of the mathematicians. An overview of their contributions is followed by a more in-depth look at their work placed in the context of their life story. Usually, this is capped off with an explanation of how their achievements are important to mathematics or to everyday life. This last section is particularly noteworthy because readers who have not previously studied math at the college level are unlikely to comprehend the equations. Still, overall, Stewart succeeds, demonstrating the interconnectedness of mathematics: most chapters make reference to at least one other character in the book, plus a host of others deemed insufficiently impressive to warrant their own treatment. VERDICT Best appreciated and understood by advanced students of mathematics.—Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston
Summarizing 2,500 years of mathematics milestones and the mathematicians who made them.Even a popularizer as skilled and prolific as Stewart (Mathematics/Univ. of Warwick; Calculating the Cosmos: How Mathematics Unveils the Universe, 2016, etc.) cannot expect general readers to fully digest his highly distilled explanations of what these significant figures did to resolve ever more complex conundrums as math advanced. The author clearly reviews Euclid and highlights the contributions of Arabic and Indian innovators in algebra and trigonometry, but things get more complicated as he turns to differential equations, three-dimensional manifolds, or multiholed tori. Thankfully, Stewart's brief but colorful sketches of the life and times of the innovators keep the pages turning. Besides well-known figures such as Archimedes, Pierre de Fermat, Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, and Kurt Gödel, the author also discusses Évariste Galois, the algebraist killed in a duel at age 20; Georg Cantor, who was driven to depression and breakdown by critics of his ideas of higher orders of numerical infinity; and Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-taught Indian number theorist of phenomenal intuition. Among other biographical nuggets, we learn that Turing may not have died from self-inflicted cyanide poisoning but from inhaling fumes from other causes and that Gödel so feared being poisoned that he died of slow starvation. Stewart includes three women in his pantheon (Ada Lovelace, Sofia Kovalevskaia, and Emmy Noether) and blames centuries of cultural bias and not genes for their scant representation. In the final chapter, the author ponders what his subjects have in common. Most seem to have manifested aptitude at an early age, but otherwise, there are few shared aspects of class, character, education, or family background. One thing is certain, however: they all had a profound love for math. A text for teachers, precocious students, and intellectually curious readers unafraid to tread unfamiliar territory and learn what mad pursuits inspire mathematicians.