Reviews

Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics - CD ROM Nov 2001 Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics by the Centre for the Popularisation of Mathematics This CD ROM, produced by the Centre for the Popularisation of Mathematics at the University of Wales in Bangor, is a most unusu
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.
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 ...
The author says in the introduction that "this book is intended as a polemic", and a polemic it certainly is. Whether or not you like the book will therefore depend not only on whether you agree with his thesis, but also on whether or not you like polemic.
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.
The golden section (or golden ratio), famously, was used in antiquity, when the ancient Greeks built temples the proportions of whose parts - by accident or design - are often supposed to have fallen in the golden ratio.
It's worth pointing out right at the start that this wouldn't be a particularly good choice of calendar if you actually want to keep track of the year. The calendar is large (A2 size) but the days of the month occupy only a 1cm-high section of each page - and the day names aren't even included, just their numbers.
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.