Vol. III, Western Mathematics Comes of Age by Cynthia Conwell Cook

Vol. III, Western Mathematics Comes of Age

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Of this four-volume history of math-in-society (as opposed to a survey of mathematics itself), the first, by an anthropologist, is the softest and most general. Moffatt discusses primitive number systems, the Zuni calendar, ancient Chinese achievements, and Mesopotamian developments, etc., in terms of social, political, economic, and religious influences, dashing off capsule characterizations of such complex systems as Confucianism with misleading if not confused simplicity. Later he takes the rather silly position of defending Egyptian and Roman mathematicians against the more intellectual and better recognized Greeks--while skipping Euclid, as he had ""little impact on the average citizen of his time."" Linn, who deals at length with the general cultural background of the East, the West, and the Middle East in the ""dark ages"" and early Renaissance, tells better stories, includes some explanations of the math involved, and gets across a sense of interrelated progression and crosscultural transmission of ideas. Cynthia Cook takes over with the growth of trade and the stimulus (to math) of navigation around 1500, proceeds to non-mathematical descriptions of the great astronomers and their work, the probability theory of Jacques Bernoulli and others, Descartes' work in analytical geometry, and then on to Newton and Leibnitz' invention of the calculus and the further contributions of Euler and Laplace--all still explained verbally and in a biographical and social context.