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Who Gave You the Epsilon? And Other Tales of Mathematical History

Who Gave You the Epsilon?

Marlow Anderson, Victor Katz, and Robin Wilson, Editors

Catalog Code: WGE
Print ISBN: 978-0-88385-569-0
Electronic ISBN: 978-0-88385-504-3
440 pp., Hardbound, 2009
List Price: $66.50
MAA Member: $53.25
Series: Spectrum

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Who Gave You the Epsilons? is a sequel to the MAA bestselling book, Sherlock Holmes in Babylon. Like its predecessor, this book is a collection of articles on the history of mathematics from the MAA journals, in many cases written by distinguished mathematicians (such as G H Hardy and B.van der Waerden), with commentary by the editors. Whereas the former book covered the history of mathematics from earliest times up to the 18th century and was organized chronologically, the 40 articles in this book are organized thematically and continue the story into the 19th and 20th centuries.

The topics covered in the book are analysis and applied mathematics, geometry, topology and foundations, algebra and number theory, and surveys. Each chapter is preceded by a Foreword, giving the historical background and setting and the scene, and is followed by an Afterword, reporting on advances in our historical knowledge and understanding since the articles first appeared.

This book will be enjoyed by anyone interested in mathematics and its history – and in particular by mathematics teachers at secondary, college and university levels.

Table of Contents

Geometry, topology, and foundations
Algebra and Number Theory
About the Editors

About the Editors

Marlow Anderson is a professor of mathematics at The Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. He has been a member of the mathematics department there since 1982. He was born in Seattle, and received his undergraduate degree from Whitman College. He studied partially ordered algebra at the University of Kansas and received his Ph.D. in 1978. He has written over 20 research papers, and co-authored a monograph on lattice-ordered groups. In addition, he has co-written an undergraduate textbook on abstract algebra. In addition to algebra, he is interested the history of mathematics. When not teaching, reading or researching mathematics, he may be found with his wife Audrey scuba-diving in far-flung parts of the world.

Victor J. Katz, born in Philadelphia, received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Brandeis University in 1968 and was for many years Professor of Mathematics at the University of the District of Columbia. He has long been interested in the history of mathematics and, in particular, in its use in teaching. His well-regarded textbook, A History of Mathematics: An Introduction, is now in its third edition. Its first edition received the Watson Davis Prize of the History of Science Society, a prize is awarded annually by the Society for a book in any field of the history of science suitable for undergraduates. A brief version of this text appeared in 2003. Professor Katz is also the editor of The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India and Islam: A Sourcebook, which was published in July, 2007 by Princeton University Press.

Professor Katz has published many articles on the history of mathematics and its use in teaching. He has edited or co-edited two recent books dealing with this subject, Learn from the Masters (1994) and Using History to Teach Mathematics (2000). He also co-edited a collection of historical articles taken from MAA journals of the past 90 years, Sherlock Holmes in Babylon and other Tales of Mathematical History. He has directed two NSF-sponsored projects that helped college teachers learn the history of mathematics and how to use it in teaching and also involved secondary school teachers in writing materials using history in the teaching of various topics in the high school curriculum. These materials, Historical Modules for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics, have now been published on a CD by the MAA. Currently, Professor Katz is the PI on an NSF grant to the MAA supporting Convergence, the online magazine in the history of mathematics and its use in teaching. He is a member of the Mathematical Association of America, the American Mathematical Society, the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and the British Society for the History of Mathematics.

Robin Wilson is Professor of Pure Mathematics at the Open University (UK), a Fellow in Mathematics at Keble College, Oxford University, and Emeritus Gresham Professor of Geometry, London (the oldest mathematical Chair in England). He has written and edited about thirty books, mainly on graph theory and the history of mathematics. His research interests focus mainly on British mathematics, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and on the history of graph theory and combinatorics. He is an enthusiastic popularizer of mathematics, having produced books on mathematics and music, mathematical philately, and sudoku, and gives about forty public lectures per year. He has an Erdös number of 1 and has won two MAA awards (a Lester Ford Award (1975) and a George Pólya award (2005).

MAA Review

The MAA has a tradition in the publication of books like this one. I think it began in 1969 with the first of four volumes of papers selected from its various journals (going back to 1890). The four volumes consisted of papers on Pre-calculus, Calculus, Algebra and Geometry respectively. All such articles were expositional, some were historical, and many were inspirational.

Much later, in 2004, there appeared an MAA publication that was compiled in a similar vein — except that its emphasis was historical throughout. It was given the title Sherlock Holmes in Babylon. In it, the articles appear in the chronological order of mathematical developments from ancient times up to the work of Euler in the 18th century. Fortunately, there is now a sequel to that book, which is the subject of this review. It contains forty-one papers pertaining to the history of mathematics from the early 19th century to the late 20th century. Continued...


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