Sruik’s little book remains among the best short histories of mathematics. It is very well-written and provides a nice overview of the grand sweep of mathematical development up to the middle of the twentieth century. It is not suitable as a text or supplementary reading for undergraduates, as much of the mathematics is presented in very condensed format. For example, on page 57 we see Ptolemy’s estimate for π as “(3,8,30) = 377/120” with no explanation that the ordered triple is a mixed representation of the base sixty numeral we would express as 3 + 8/60 + 30/3600. On page 85 we are told that Ferrari reduced the quartic x4 + 6x2 + 36 = 60x to y3 + 15y2 +36y = 450 with no explanation as to how these equations are related. Struik does do a fine job of placing the mathematicians he discusses into the larger context, providing nice “mathematical lineages” and lists of who worked with whom.
This edition is a 1987 revision of a book first published in 1947. As a result, the references lack any of the fine recent scholarship in mathematics. While it’s still worth having on your bookshelf, it is probably no longer a good choice for students or a college library. Wolfram MathWorld and the MacTutor History of Mathematics sites are (free) online sources for glimpses of the history of mathematics. David Burton and Victor Katz both have wonderful textbooks in the history of mathematics which provide much more complete and detailed histories than one finds in Struik.
Richard Wilders is Marie and Bernice Gantzert Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at North Central College. His primary areas of interest are the history and philosophy of mathematics and of science. He has been a member of the Illinois Section of the Mathematical Association of America for 30 years and is a recipient of its Distinguished Service Award. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I. THE BEGINNINGS
II. THE ANCIENT ORIENT
IV. THE ORIENT AFTER THE DECLINE OF GREEK SOCIETY
V. THE BEGINNINGS IN WESTERN EUROPE
VI. THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
VII. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
VIII. THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
IX. THE FIRST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY