Stewart receives an A for telling us how vast, wonderful and useful are all the members of the world of numbers but a lower...

# PROFESSOR STEWART’S INCREDIBLE NUMBERS

The erudite British math professor revels in the wonders of numbers.

Stewart (Emeritus, Mathematics/Univ. of Warwick; The Mathematics of Life, 2011, etc.) adopts the framework of the chapters as subjects to elucidate the charms of the digits one to 10, adding separate chapters for special numbers including zero, negative numbers, rationals and irrationals, pi, e, the imaginary number i (the square root of minus 1) and so on. For each, the author provides historical context—e.g., many 19th-century mathematicians found the notion of infinity abhorrent. Stewart’s approach works well early on, giving a nice sense of how math has evolved to ever larger number systems that have many applications beyond pure mathematics. However, Stewart tells about the remarkable findings of great mathematicians rather than showing how they were obtained. This is partly because the proofs involved are too complex or technical, requiring some knowledge of calculus or complex numbers. Yet even in simpler cases where Stewart shows steps in a proof, his explanations are terse and may assume too much on the part of readers. (On the other hand, he is expansive in giving the names and dates of those who carried out calculations of the square root of 2 or pi to a zillion places.) The degree of sophistication grows in the latter half of the text, as Stewart discourses on fractals, musical scales, packing problems, Rubik’s cubes, string theory and encryption, including an analysis of the celebrated German enigma code of World War II. The topics defy any logical sequence, so a discussion of wallpaper patterns can be followed by the famous birthday problem in which it turns out that the probability of two people in a group having the same birthday is greater than 50 percent in a group as small as 23 people.

Stewart receives an A for telling us how vast, wonderful and useful are all the members of the world of numbers but a lower grade for his explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-04272-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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# DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

# A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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