Home > Maths > From Here to Infinity, Ian Stewart – A Book Review

From Here to Infinity, Ian Stewart – A Book Review

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

I finished this book a while ago, but haven’t got round to reviewing it yet, so thought I would jot down my thoughts belatedly.

Ian Stewart is an author whom I first discovered through Terry Pratchett. Together (and with Jack Cohen) they penned the “Science of the Discworld” series of books which use stories based on the Discworld to explain the science of our own world an universe, if you haven’t read them, I would certainly advise you do! I enjoyed them, and so I thought I would enjoy this one too.

From here to eternity had me hooked from the opening salvo, a paragraph so powerful it made me stop and write this blog post. Here is an abridged version:

“One of the biggest problems of mathematics is to explain to everyone what it is all about. The technical trappings of the subject, it’s symbolism and formality, it’s baffling terminology, it’s apparent delight in lengthy calculations: these tend to obscure its real nature. A musician would be horrified if his art were summed up as ‘a lot of tadpoles drawn on a row of lines.’….. The symbolism of maths is merely its coded form, not its substance…. Mathematics is not about symbols and calculations, these are tools of the trade….  Mathematics is about ideas…. It is about how ideas relate to each other….understanding why an answer is possible…. good mathematics has an air of economy and an element of surprise. But above all, it had significance.” (Ian Stewart)

I was nodding along from the get go and my mind was entirely hooked from the get go. Stewart uses humour and anecdotes to weave an engaging tale around some really heavy mathematics, and all the elements add up to a thoroughly enjoyable book.

While reading it I found my love of group theory, graph theory and knot theory rekindled. The booked took a surface view of the topics and I found these tasters made me yearn for more. There were also area’s I knew little about, such as non-euclidean geometry, which I now have the desire to research further.

The book is exciting, and informative and I would urge anyone with an interest in maths to give it a read. Especially those embarking on a degree in maths who don’t yet know the area’s they want to investigate, it will give them a great taster.

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  1. January 15, 2017 at 3:01 am
  2. January 15, 2017 at 12:01 pm

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