Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thoughts on Stewart's Significant Figures: Learning mathematical figures, through human ones; a great read for the science geek

I enjoyed Ian Stewart’s history of mathematics, entitled “Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians”, which includes the biographies of some notable mathematicians. I found that this book had a great format, combining character insights into people, a history of a subject as well as a powerful approach to teach people about mathematical concepts and how they interconnect. I particularly liked the way Stewart was able to describe concepts such as Turing's insights into computation and Gödel’s insights into logic and link them together with their lives. I also enjoyed the way that he explained the construction of non-Euclidian geometries and how this, of course, is built one person on top of another.

The book has lots of great character insights into why these individuals were so brilliant. I particularly liked the story of how Carl Gauss was able to quickly solve a simple addition problem -- summing up all the numbers from one to 100 very quickly -- that is easily grasped now but which clearly illuminates his brilliance as a young child.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. I think a little knowledge of mathematics is useful because some of the sections benefit from some understanding of calculus, group theory, etc. Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians eBook: Ian Stewart: Kindle Store