Reviews and recommendations
Robin J Wilson's book is "not", as he assures the reader in the Preface, "a history of mathematics book in the conventional sense of the word". No indeed. It is, rather, a selective account of aspects of the history of mathematics which have appeared on postage stamps from across the world.
Money is peculiar stuff. It has no use of any kind apart from its value in exchange for something else, and this grows over time as it earns interest, or shrinks as inflation overtakes it. If you have money to invest, there are a bewildering array of different kinds of financial instrument available: interest-bearing accounts, bonds, pension funds, stocks and shares, options ...
Avid readers of popular books on the laws of nature are tolerably familiar with a number of facts. They know that electricity, magnetism and the weak force between elementary particles have been unified, that Einstein's theory of special relativity arose from an attempt to reconcile Newtonian mechanics with the laws of electromagmetism, and that his later theory of general relativity had something to do with the structure of spacetime.
I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam." With these words, spoken in 1821, Charles Babbage embarked on the great quest of his life - the attempt to fully automate calculation. Goaded by the all-pervasive errors in the tables of the period, he began to conceive of a great machine that would replace human fallibility with utter mechanical reliability.
Professor Jardine's latest book is a broad survey of a remarkable period in history, the so-called Scientific Revolution. The premise of Jardine's narrative is that we currently live on one side or the other of a gulf in understanding between the sciences and the arts - the so-called "Two Cultures" defined by C P Snow - and her aim is to show, by illustrating the roots of modern science, that this cultural divide is a modern construct. Jardine therefore focuses her attention on the overlap and interchange of science, mathematics and the arts throughout the intellectual ferment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
f you're flicking casually through the books in the "popular mathematics" section of your local bookshop, and see this book but fail to read the subtitle, you might well think that its theme is that some people are born with a "maths gene", and some without - and that possession of this gene is the major factor in determining who can do maths, and who can't.