An energetic effort that successfully communicates the author’s love of mathematics, if not the secrets of calculus itself.

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INFINITE POWERS

HOW CALCULUS REVEALS THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE

A complex attempt to render calculus accessible.

Strogatz (Applied Mathematics/Cornell Univ.; The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, 2013, etc.) emphasizes that “calculus is an imaginary realm of symbols and logic” that “lets us peer into the future and predict the unknown. That’s what makes it such a powerful tool for science and technology.” It works by breaking problems down into tiny parts—infinitely tiny—and then putting them back together. Breaking down is the work of differential calculus; putting together requires integral calculus. Early civilizations, including the Babylonians, Greeks, and Chinese, had no trouble measuring anything straight, including complex structures such as the icosahedron, but curves and movement caused problems. Thus, finding the area of a circle by converting it into a 10-sided polygon and measuring the polygon’s area yields a fair approximation. A 100-sided polygon gave a more accurate result. Perfection required a polygon with an infinite number of infinitely small sides, but dealing with infinity was particularly tricky. Invented in its modern version by Newton and Leibniz in the late 17th century, calculus solved the problem. Readers who pay close attention to Strogatz’s analogies, generously supplied with graphs and illustrations, may or may not see the light, but all will enjoy the long final section, which eschews education in favor of a history of modern science, which turns out to be a direct consequence of this mathematics. The best introduction to calculus remains a textbook—Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus P. Thompson—published in 1910 and, amazingly, still in print. Readers who dip into Thompson will understand Strogatz’s enthusiasm. His own explanations will enlighten those with some memory of high school calculus, but innumerate readers are likely to remain mystified.

An energetic effort that successfully communicates the author’s love of mathematics, if not the secrets of calculus itself.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-87998-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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