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THE SECRET LIVES OF NUMBERS

A HIDDEN HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS

A solid corrective to a host of misunderstandings about math.

A fine history of mathematics that seeks to decouple it from its traditional Eurocentric focus and usually succeeds.

Kitagawa, a leading historian of mathematics, and Revell, a “lapsed mathematician” and U.S. editor for New Scientist, note that the discipline of mathematics began as tallying, the beginning of which is lost in history. However, anthropologists have turned up 20,000-year-old bones covered with regular notches that may or may not indicate that someone was counting. After a quick review of early civilizations—Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Maya, Greek—the authors devote large sections to China and India from ancient to near-modern times and to the Arab world after the rise of Islam. Until the appearance of decimals, a base-10 number system, and the concept of zero, during the first millennium, all of which make calculation easier, pre-modern mathematicians were limited to simple arithmetic and bookkeeping, but they accomplished amazing things. They could predict eclipses, measure the length of a day within seconds, and determine pi to eight decimal places. The Pythagorean theorem was proven long before Pythagoras, and the concepts behind calculus appeared during India’s golden age. The authors demonstrate that the scientific revolution was not strictly a European invention because science had been advancing throughout history. “Many ideas that turn up in the ‘Scientific Revolution’ had already been explored elsewhere or were the culmination of incremental steps made by others,” they write. What changed was the idea that humans were ignorant and that knowledge would encourage progress and make life better. Ancient cultures assumed that everything important was already known. Pre-modern mathematicians solved practical problems and were considered experts on calendars (essential for religious ceremonies), but mostly mathematics was admired as a mark of superior culture in the same class as poetry and philosophy. No one expected math to change the world; Galileo, Newton, and Einstein did that.

A solid corrective to a host of misunderstandings about math.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2023

ISBN: 9780063206052

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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