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Math and Science - Related Books You Can Read, page 5
Recommended by Mr. Brandenburg

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1. Plate Tectonics: An Insider's History of the Modern Theory of the Earth
By Naomi Oreskes (Editor), Homer Le Grand (Contributor)
(Westview, 424 pp, 2002)
General audience
"Widely dismissed as crank science in earlier generations, the theory of plate tectonics--which explains the movement of continents in geological time, as well as the formation of the earth's major features--is now largely accepted as fact within the scientific community. Drawing on the memories of major theoreticians in the field, scientist and historian Naomi Oreskes offers a vivid history of just how that transformation occurred. She describes the early quest on the part of James Dana, Alfred Wegner, J. H. Hodgson, and other scientists to account for the mechanics of earthquakes and certain puzzling features of geomorphology, a quest widened and strengthened by the work of deep-ocean explorers who were able, beginning in the 1960s, to study tectonics at work far below the surface of the world's waters. Such advances, as pioneer Peter Molnar and others explain, did not immediately change the way geologists went about their work, but they quickly went on to revolutionize science--and then, as such things do, to become orthodox. A useful reference for students of geology and the history of science, this book is also easily accessible to nonspecialists."

2. Storm Watchers: The Turbulent History of Weather Prediction from Franklin's Kite to El Niño
By John D. Cox
(Wiley, 252 pp, 2002)
General audience
"Through profiles of 30 pioneers in the field, Cox unravels the history of meteorology before the advent of high-tech machines that make highly accurage prediction possible. Readers learn about Benjamin Franklin's research on the Gulf Stream and the effects of volcanoes on atmospheric cooling and how expansion-minded government officials ignored John Finley's 19-th century warnings about ... the wrath of tornadoes in the U.S. frontier. In the process of telling these individual stories, Cox relates tales of some of the most devastating weather events ever."


1. e: The Story of a Number
By Eli Maor
(Princeton, 232 pp, 1998)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
"Until about 1975, logarithms were every scientist's best friend. They were the basis of the slide rule that was the totemic wand of the trade, listed in huge books consulted in every library. Then hand-held calculators arrived, and within a few years slide rules were museum pieces. But e remains, the center of the natural logarithmic function and of calculus. Eli Maor's book is the only more or less popular account of the history of this universal constant."

2. Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace
By Leonard Mlodinow
(Free Press, 306 pp, 2001)
GFBR*** HS-Adult
"Mlodinow reveals how geometry's first revolution began with a 'little' scheme hatched by Pythagoras: the invention of a system of abstract rules that could model the universe. That modest idea was the basis of scientific civilation. But further advance was halted when the Western mind nodded off into the Dark Ages. Finally in the fourteenth century an obscure bishop in France invented the graph and heralded the next revolution: the marriage of geometry and number. 'The story of 5 revolutions in geometry.'"

3. Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem
By Amir D. Aczel
(Doubleday, 147 pp, 1997)
"Over three hundred years ago, a French scholar scribbled a simple theorem in the margin of a book. It would become the world's most baffling mathematical mystery. Simple, elegant, and utterly impossible to prove, Fermat's Last Theorem captured the imaginations of amateur and professional mathematicians for over three centuries. For some it became a wonderful passion. For others it was an obsession that led to deceit, intrigue, or insanity. In a volume filled with the clues, red herrings, and suspense of a mystery novel, Dr. Amir Aczel reveals the previously untold story of the people, the history, and the cultures that lie behind this scientific triumph." Perhaps not as good as the next book; some reviewers said it was biased against Wiles.

4. Fermat's Enigma; The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem
By Simon Singh
(Walker, 315 pp, 1997)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
This is the story of the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem by Andrew Wiles, who wrote, "Perhaps I could best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of entering a dark mansion. One goes into the first room and it's dark, really dark, and one stumbles around bumping into the furniture. Gradually you learn where each piece of furniture is, and finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch and suddenly it's all illuminated and you can see exactly where you are." I thought the book was very well-written and clear.

5. Five Golden Rules: Great Theories of 20th-Century Mathematics--and Why They Matter
By John L. Casti
(Wiley & Sons, 235 pp, 1996)
"Books on mathematics with such beauty, breadth, and insight are rare. Five Golden Rules is replete with intriguing information - not only for curious laypeople but also for seasoned mathematicians and scientists. Casti has produced a truly stunning survey of mathematics' manifold consequences."

6. An Imaginary Tale
By Paul J. Nahin. (Princeton, 258 pp, 1998)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
"...tells the 2000-year-old history of one of mathematics' most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one, also known as i, re-creating the baffling mathematical problems that conjured it up and the colorful characters who tried to solve them. Addressing readers with both a general and scholarly interest in mathematics, Nahin weaves into this narrative entertaining historical facts, mathematical discussions, and the application of complex numbers and functions to important problems."

7. Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
By William Dunham
GFBR**** HS-Adult
"Strikes an extraordinary balance between the historical and technical. He devotes each chapter to a principal result of mathematics, such as the solution of the cubic series and the divergence of the harmonic series. Not only does this book tell the stories of the people behind the math, but it also includes discussions and rigorous proofs of the relevant mathematical results"

8. The Joy of Pi
By David Blatner
(Walker, 129 pp, 1997)
GFBR**** 11-Adult
This is an easy book to read. It has many different parts: breezy narratives of the history of pi, and quirky stories of those obsessed with it. There are numerous cartoons, poems, limericks, and jokes as well as the first one million digits of pi.

9. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
By Dava Sobel
(Walker & Co., 184 pp, 1996)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Numbers, like letter forms, have a rich and complex history. Who first invented the? How old are they, and how were they developed? How did they come to represent a world of abstract ideas and universal concepts? How do they differ throughout the world today?" Sobel's writing is a little dry, but the book is definitely easy to read. There is another edition, known as The Illustrated Longitude, which has many more pictures of the clocks and other devices and the people involved.

10. Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers
By Calvin C. Clawson
(Perseus, 313 pp, 1996)
GFBR*** Advanced HS-Adult
"Many of the dazzling beauties of higher mathematics are just as accessible to an ordinary untrained spectator as are similar wonders of great literature, visual art, and music. This well-kept secret is finally blown wide open in Calvin Clawson's latest book." Has equations, but explains them well.

11. Mathematical Sorcery: Revealing the Secrets of Numbers
By Calvin C. Clawson
(Perseus, 234 pp, 1999)
"Few mathematicians today have the ability to write about math more entertainingly, with greater enthusiasm and clarity, than Calvin Clawson. A splendid introduction to the great ideas of mathematics, their powerful magic, and their intricate, mysterious beauty."

12. The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems and Personalities
By William W. Dunham
(Wiley, 314 pp, 1997)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Contains a wealth of amusing stories and little known facts from the annals of math. All proofs and equations are introduced through easy-to-follow, step-by-step explanations. Discusses some of the most intriguing mysteries such as Russell's Paradox. Features brief biographies of many great mathematicians including Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Hypatia of Alexandria."

13. Mathematics for the Million
By Lancelot Hogben
(numerous versions available)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"The best elementary math book (for algebra, geometry, trig, and spherical trig) ...it has been in continuous print since the 1930's! There is also lots of history in it. The same author has a history- of -math book, with wonderful illustrations, that I often give to children and arts friends. It really inspired me as a kid." Albert Einstein wrote: "It makes alive the contents of the elements of mathematics."

14. The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World
By Ken Alder
(Free Press, 422 pp, 2002)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
"...this [is an] elegant history of technology, acute cultural chronicle and riveting intellectual adventure built around [the] expedition of 1792-1799 to calculate the length of the meter. Disclosing for the first time details from the astronomers' personal correspondences ... [the author] reveals how [one of the astronomers] made a mistake in his calculations, which he covered up, and which tortured him until his death. ...Alder has placed Delambre and Mechain squarely in the larger context of the Enlightenment's quest for perfection in nature and its startling discovery of a world 'too irregular to serve as its own measure.'" The meter was supposed to a universal standard, exactly of the circumference of the earth, but ....

15. The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Human Mind
By Amir D. Aczel
(4 Walls 8 Windows, 258 pp, 2000)
"Aczel tells of mathematicians struggling with absolute infinity and some of its mind-bending ramifications. The crown jewel of this struggle was conceived more than a century ago by Georg Cantor and remains an enigma to mathematicians. Cantor spent his life going back and forth between trying to prove and disprove his continuum hypothesis. In the Kabbalah, the aleph 'represents the infinite nature, and the oneness, of God.' Cantor deliberately picked this symbol for use in his equations: to him, trying to understand the absolute infinite was like trying to touch the face of God."

16. The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero
By Robert Kaplan
(Oxford, 225 pp, 2000)
GFBR*** HS-Adult
"It is hard to imagine that an entertaining, informative book could be written about nothing, but Robert Kaplan has done it brilliantly. Starting with the great invention of zero as a place holder, Kaplan takes you through the use of zero in algebra, and in calculus, through the importance of the null set. His book closes with that unthinkable question, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' about which one cannot long meditate without fear of going mad."

17. Numbers: the Universal Language
By Denis Guedj
(Abrams, 175 pp, 1996, 1997)
Middle School-Adult
"Positional notation i.e Hindu(Arabic) is beautifully explained in this book like no other! The Photographs the artwork and the layout of the book make it even more readable. For anyone like myself that couldn't understand Mathematics at High School or University - primarily because your Teacher or Lecturer didn't understand it either should buy this book! It will open your eyes!"

18. Trigonometric Delights
By Eli Maor
(Princeton, 248 pp, 1998)
GFBR**** Advanced HS-Adult
"Maor writes Trigonometric Delights from an historical perspective, but it is not a history book. It contains many theorems and results of trigonometry, but it is not a textbook. Rather, Maor achieves a satisfying blend of mathematics and history, creating a work that informs, teaches, and stimulates thought, while underscoring that mathematics is a human endeavor, not a stale collection of facts that exist in a vacuum. His book is the labor of a missionary whose aim is to deepen our appreciation of ideas and the people who developed them, ideas about which we have heard, but have not fully enjoyed. It is evident throughout that Maor is devoted to his subject. His love for trigonometry is contagious. He writes enthusiastically and engagingly."

19. The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer
By Georges Ifrah
(Wiley, 633 pp, several editions)
A very in-depth treatment of the subject, much more so than I have found in any other history-of-mathematics book - and that includes Florian Cajori, Otto Neugebauer, and many others.

[astronomy]   [bad science]   [biography: mathematicians + scientists]
[biology/life science/evolution]   [chaos theory]   [codes and code-breaking]
[computer science/robotics/game theory]   [earth science/geology]
[history of mathematics]   [how-to: mathematics]   [how-to: science]
[mathematics - general]   [novels + short stories]   [number theory]
[physical chemistry]   [physics]   [probability + statistics]   [puzzles + problems]
[reference - mathematics]   [reliable, prolific authors on science + math]   [science - general]  

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