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

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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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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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