Vol. IV, The Modern Ages by Peter D. Cook

Vol. IV, The Modern Ages

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Both the math and the anecdotes pick up in Peter Cook's survey from Gauss to the present, though here especially the non-technical approach can be frustrating to those who would rather sink their teeth into the mathematical concepts. For example, the two paragraphs on Fourier give us his life and times, the publication of his theory on heat conduction, the reaction to it, and the names of fields it is used in today, but Cook never explains the theory or even mentions such ideas as Fourier transformation. But for all the peripheral narration he does supply several clear and nifty explanations--on topics ranging from factoring, transcendental numbers and ""ideal"" classes to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Boolian logic, and computer logic. Cook branches off into modern, thought-provoking applications of math in aesthetics, game theory and elsewhere, and, conceding that the ""information explosion"" has done away with the universalist mathematician he ends with examples of Martin Gardner-style ""recreational math"" that non-specialists can still enjoy. On the whole, these make variously interesting tangential reading, best summarized in the words Cook quotes from John Stuart Mill: ""Not only . . . will 'no knowledge of mathematics beyond the simple ruses of Arithmetic' be required to understand these pages, but it is not intended that any such knowledge should be acquired by the process of reading them.