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Gauss: Titan of Science

Author(s): 
Jon Choate, reviewer

Gauss: Titan of Science, G. Waldo Dunnington (with additions by Jeremy Gray), 2004, reprint of 1955 edition, 537 pp. $51.95 (member price $41.50), cloth. ISBN 0-88385-547-X. Washington , DC: The Mathematical Association of America, 800-331-1622, /

 

If you are interested in an in-depth look at how one of the world’s most prolific mathematicians lived his life then you will enjoy G. Waldo Dunnington’s Gauss: Titan of Science. Gauss’s life as a professor at the University of Gottingen is described in great detail, and one is left with a good look at what it was like to live and work in a prestigious German university during the first half of the nineteenth century amidst the constant political turmoil in Europe at that time. Gauss was very much the applied mathematician, and Dunnington traces in some detail the genesis of several of his more important contributions: his work on least squares analysis resulting from trying to make sense of data collected from attempts to find new planets, his work on geodesics which came out of his completing a survey of the part of Germany where he lived, and his work in non-Euclidian geometry which resulted from an early meeting with Nicolai Bolyai.

Gauss did not travel much, but he did have extensive correspondence with many of the mathematical figures of his time, and where relevant, parts of these communications are given. The text does not cite much of the mathematics of Gauss’s work because it tends to be very dense and written in Latin. However, an extensive overview of his work providing a good account of all that Gauss accomplished is included as an appendix at the end of the book.  Because of the amount of detail, this is not an easy read, but if you are interested in who Gauss interacted with, where his ideas came from, and what it was like to live in his era you will find reading this book both rewarding and informative.

Jon Choate, Mathematics Dept., Groton School, Groton, MA 

 

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