- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st edition (August 1, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780140147391
- ISBN-13: 978-0140147391
- ASIN: 014014739X
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 227 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics Paperback – 1 August 1991
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"An inspired piece of intellectual history."-- Los Angeles Times
"It is mathematics presented as a series of works of art; a fascinating lingering over individual examples of ingenuity and insight. It is mathematics by lightning flash."-- Isaac Asimov
"Dunham deftly guides the reader through the verbal and logical intricacies of major mathematical questions, conveying a splendid sense of how the greatest mathematicians from ancient to modern times presented their arguments."--Ivars Peterson, author of The Mathematical Tourist
From the Back Cover
A rare combination of the historical, biographical, and mathematicalgenius, this book is a fascinating introduction to a neglected field of human creativity. Dunham places mathematical theorem, along with masterpieces of art, music, and literature and gives them the attention they deserve.
About the Author
William Dunham is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. After receiving his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in 1974, he joined the mathematics faculty at Hanover College in Indiana. He has directed a summer seminar funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities on the topic of "The Great Theorems of Mathematics in Historical Context."
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
One of the first questions anyone might have before reading a book about mathematics is what level of mathematical sophistication is required on the part of the reader. In this case, the reader can feel pretty safe. While these are real and deep mathematical theorems, their proofs only require high-school level mathematics. In the vast majority of cases, the reader familiar with basic algebra and a little bit of geometry will have no trouble following the discussions. One theorem (Newton's approximation of pi) requires a little bit of integral calculus and another (the discussion of some of Euler's sums) requires a smidge of elementary trigonometry. In both cases, the author holds the reader's hand through the discussion so even if you haven't taken a course in trigonometry or calculus, you'll still be able to follow most of the conversation.
In fact, even if you don't really have a lot of algebra and geometry, the bulk of the book will still be accessible to you. The majority of the text is a history of mathematics wherein the author discusses the context and importance of the theorems and some biographical details of their discoverers. While I find the recreations of the proofs themselves to be perhaps the most interesting part, the reader with a general interest (even if that interest is not supported by mathematical skill) will find the book fascinating. For those of us who do have some knowledge of mathematics, though, the recreations of the theorems presented in their historical context provides a rich and inspiring series of vignettes from the history of mathematics.
This brings us to another important point. While this is a book about the history of mathematics. it is not *a* history of mathematics, and the theorems selected are not the only "great" theorems of mathematics, but a cross-section thereof. Many readers of sufficient mathematical background may quibble over the inclusion of some theorems at the expense of others--personally I would like to have seen more from combinatorics--but no one can deny that these theorems are remarkable in their elegance and in their importance in the development of mathematics from the Ancient Greeks to the very end of the nineteenth century.
It might be helpful to know what theorems are actually included in the book. Aside from a handful of lemmas and minor results presented before or after each of the "Great Theorems," the book consists of a single major result per chapter. They are:
*Hippocrates' quadrature of the lune
*Euclid's proof of the Pythagorean Theorem
*Euclid's proof of the infinitude of primes
*Archimedes' determination of a formula for circular area
*Heron's formula for triangular area
*Cardano's solution of the cubic
*Netwon's approximation of pi
*Bernoulli's proof of the divergence of the harmonic series
*Euler's evaluation of the infinite series 1+1/4+1/9+1/16+...
*Euler's refutation of Fermat's conjecture
*Cantor's proof that the interval (0,1) is not countable
*Cantor's theorem that the power set of A has strictly greater cardinality than A
Each of these theorems is surrounded by the historical discussion that makes this book a triumph not merely of teaching a dozen results to students but of actually educating students on the human enterprise of mathematics. It is not only interesting but, I think, important to be reminded of the human side of a field as abstract as mathematics, and Dunham bridges the mathematical and the biographical with remarkable dexterity. It is useful for the student of mathematics to understand that Cantor's work on the transfinite was resisted by the mathematicians of his day just as much as students struggle with it when they're exposed to it in today's lecture halls. It might further be useful to know that, perhaps partly due to his demeanor and perhaps partly due to the attacks on his work, Cantor spent much of his life in mental hospitals--and yet, despite his unhappy life his work has achieved immortality as one of the great developments in mathematical history.
I can't recommend this book highly enough for the mathematician, the math student, or the merely curious. In fact, I recommend reading it twice. First, just read it straight through and enjoy the story of mathematics told through these vignettes. Then read it again with pencil and paper in hand and work through the theorems and proofs with the author as your guide. You'll come away with a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for these great theorems in particular and mathematics in general.
I suppose it's a good thing it was published in 1990 so it can't include Andrew Wiles' 1996 proof of Fermat's most famous conjecture. There is NO way the mathematical layman could follow that!
I highly recommend it; it is exactly what the title and review say it is. A leisurely walk/journey through some of the truly remarkable mathematics in human history.