book review

We've all been there. You're in a bar with a group of friends. The night draws in. The empties pile up. The conversation turns to sublime speculation and ridiculous argument. How many golf balls would you need to circle the Earth? What's the risk of being killed by a shark? How efficient is wind power? How far does your average Premiership footballer run in a game? How can we put an end to all these questions and go home?
Symmetry abounds: the wallpaper, your chair, even your own body. Familiar types of symmetry include reflection in a line and rotation about a point. Creating a repeating pattern by translating a core segment to a new place, common in wallpaper, also counts as a symmetry, as does switching without the use of a mirror from an anticlockwise segment to one otherwise identical but oriented clockwise.
If you are interested in how medieval cathedrals came into being, and the mathematics associated with their architecture and construction, then this book is for you.
I would guess that, even a decade ago, the phrase "mathematical recreation" would have been considered a contradiction in terms. Now, in the age of compulsive Sudoku puzzlers, and an increasing canon of popular mathematics books, this descriptor has become credible.
"Oh god, I hope not," was the reaction of a student when Livio asked the title question at a lecture, and it's a reaction that's likely to be replicated by many unsuspecting bookshop browsers. But despite its frightening title, the book's appeal could not be broader.
If you ever have been (or wanted to be) involved in a school or office council which has to be elected by popular vote, you have a fair idea of the sort of considerations that have to be made.
Engineers often consider mathematics a necessary evil rather than a pursuit in itself. The author of An imaginary tale, Paul J. Nahin, is therefore a rare find.
If you were to seek out books that attempt to popularise maths among the innumerati, you would notice that most give a quick nod to the golden ratio.
With Einstein's publication of The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity in 1916 our view of the nature of the Universe was forever altered.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson sat in the bows of a rowing boat and heaved on the oars in time with another young man who sat in front of him.
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