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.
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.
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.