A fast-paced history of the singular idea that shaped a multitude of modern achievements.

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INFINITESIMAL

HOW A DANGEROUS MATHEMATICAL THEORY SHAPED THE MODERN WORLD

In the mid-17th century, debate raged over a mathematical concept of the infinitely small—and nothing less than modernity as we know it was at stake.

At its core, the public argument over the infinitesimal—the idea that a line is composed of an endless number of immeasurably small component parts—is rooted in the ideological scope of post-Reformation Europe. The church, struggling to maintain autonomy over an increasingly disparate populace, fought to bar the infinitesimal from mathematical doctrine due to its implication that nature itself is not orderly, logical and completely subject to deductive reasoning. At the same time, leading intellectuals like Thomas Hobbes and John Wallis insisted that embracing the idea of the infinite in mathematics would open up a remarkable new opportunity to experimentally explore the world around us. Alexander (History/UCLA; Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics, 2010, etc.) tells this story of intellectual strife with the high drama and thrilling tension it deserves, weaving a history of mathematics through the social and religious upheavals that marked much of the era. For the people of Europe, more than just academic success was on the line: The struggle for civil liberties and rebellion against the rigid doctrines of the establishment were entrenched in the conceptual war over the infinitesimal. The fact that progressive mathematics prevailed was unquestionably momentous, as the addition of the concept of the infinitesimal eventually led to calculus, physics and many of the technological advances that are the bedrock of modern science and society. The author navigates even the most abstract mathematical concepts as deftly as he does the layered social history, and the result is a book about math that is actually fun to read.

A fast-paced history of the singular idea that shaped a multitude of modern achievements.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-17681-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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