book review

When we arrived at the The New Diorama Theatre in London we didn't know what to expect. The universal machine is a musical about the life of mathematician and WWII code breaker Alan Turing. I have only seen one musical in my whole life, Cats, and it made me feel ill, so I really could not fathom how this was going to work. But as it turned out, we loved it.

It's always good to see other people make mistakes, so a book about serious errors committed by some of history's greatest scientists is bound to be a good read. But Mario Livio's new book isn't just about reassuring
ordinary mortals like me, and it's not at all about poking fun at less ordinary ones. It's a thoughtful look at science, the often hap-hazard path of its progress and the limitations of the human mind.

Superposition, an audio-visual performance written by Ryoji Ikeda, is not for the faint hearted. We certainly wouldn't ever be tempted to listen to the sound track on its own. But despite its challenging nature, it is a wonderful experience which evoked a sense of beauty from chaos, mathematics, and physics, carried across by visual art and music.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like the world is a very nice place. The news is filled with war, political conflict, crime – it seems we just can't get along. So it is very cheering indeed to read a book dedicated entirely to convincing you that we are actually very helpful to one another and that the whole world as we know it is only possible thanks to cooperation. And surprisingly the authors don't use psychology or sociology to make their argument – they use maths.

Higgs Force traces the history of the human quest for understanding how the Universe works, starting from the atomic ideas of the ancient Greeks and finishing with the launch of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It is a remarkable fact that the author was able to present it as a continuous story, tracing the analogies between the earliest ideas of elements (fire-air-water-earth) and the accepted current theory of elementary particles.

Reading this book feels a bit like putting on a CD of a virtuoso pianist to help inspire my own amateur playing . It does not, and does not try to, give a real taste of what it is like to be a professional mathematician. But the book gives a good picture of a selection of the topics that mathematicians study and have studied, how those topics have developed over the last two thousand years, and how they have profoundly influenced the world around us.

Richard Elwes' Maths handbook is a lucid presentation of basic mathematics facts. It is intended for those who "were never any good at mathematics", for grown-ups who wish they remembered more of the maths they studied as children, or those who are intimidated by the subject. It is the latter point the author is most passionate about. This book serves as a proof that mathematics is a very natural way of thinking, and there is a reason for everything in it.

We don't normally review childrens' books on Plus, but when this colourful volume landed on our desk we couldn't resist. It appeared to do exactly what we try to do all the time: reveal the beauty and fun side of maths and show how it comes up everywhere, as a natural language in which to talk about the world. So we passed it on to two expert representatives of the book's target audience, which is 7 to 11-year olds.

Have you ever wanted to explore the symmetries of the cube and octahedron through an old Japanese art form? Or to investigate fractals using tatting and string art? Or to study the helix by knitting bed socks? If so, or if you are at least open to the idea, then this book would be a good place to start.

Dana Mackenzie's book is a display of modern mathematical developments, which have brought about the solutions of several old and important questions in number theory, topology and the theory of dynamical systems. More recent areas, related to finance and computer science, have also witnessed a lot of attention-grabbing events — some good and some bad. For those with a mathematical background this book makes a fascinating read.

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