Stewart’s imaginative, often-witty anecdotes, analogies and diagrams succeed in illuminating many but not all of some very...

VISIONS OF INFINITY

THE GREAT MATHEMATICAL PROBLEMS

An aggressively unsimplified account of 14 great problems, emphasizing how mathematicians approached but did not always solve them.

Fermat’s Last Theorem, 350 years old and solved by Andrew Wiles in 1995, produced headlines because laymen were amazed that mathematicians could make new discoveries. In fact, mathematics is as creative as physics, writes prolific popularizer Stewart (Mathematics Emeritus/Univ. of Warwick; The Mathematics of Life, 2011): “Mathematics is newer, and more diverse, than most of us imagine.” Goldbach’s Conjecture—that every even number can be written as the sum of two prime numbers (250 years old, probably true but not proven)—provides the background for a chapter on the unruly field of prime numbers: those divisible only by one and itself (3, 5, 7, 11, 13…). Squaring the Circle—constructing a square with an area identical to a given circle (2,500 years old; proven impossible)—introduces pi. Schoolchildren learn that pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, but it’s a deeply important number that turns up everywhere in mathematics. Most readers know that Newton’s laws precisely predict motions of two bodies, but few know that they flop with three. The Three-body Problem (330 years old, unsolved) continues to worry astronomers since it hints that gravitational forces among three or more bodies may be unstable, so the planets may eventually fly off.

Stewart’s imaginative, often-witty anecdotes, analogies and diagrams succeed in illuminating many but not all of some very difficult ideas. It will enchant math enthusiasts as well as general readers who pay close attention.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-465-02240-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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